The Pope has warned Christians not to believe predictions that the world will end on December 21 and the space agency NASA has been moved to debunk officially various theories — mystery planets, sun flares, planetary alignments — as to how it will happen.
Believers say the date of the world’s demise was set by the ancient Mayans more than 1100 years ago.
Irate Mayans living today in Central America and southern Mexico say the whole thing is rubbish — one of their very long calendar cycles does come to an end on that date but then another one will start.
The whole thing is creating enormous interest as well as a tourist boom in Guatemala, home of many of the most famous Mayan ruins.
National Geographic journalist Diego Bunuel (Don’t Tell My Mother) joined archaeologists in Central America to make Maya Underworld: The Real Doomsday.
His documentary is part of a week of programming from December 16 on National Geographic under the heading of The Survivors’ Guide to the Mayan Apocalypse.
Speaking from his home in Paris, Bunuel said that doomsday predictions did have one useful purpose — they served to put our lives in perspective.
“What have I done with my life and what have we done with our planet — these are questions that force people to reckon with what they have done,” he said.
“Not that the reckoning will come to anything but I still think it is an important moment. It is like meditation where you take a few seconds to think about what we are doing here on this earth.”
He pointed out that what scientists were now discovering about the ancient Mayans showed how similar their experience was to our own.
“We face global warming, environmental changes and over- population and that is similar to what happened to the Mayans,” he said. “There is an echo in what their experience was and what ours might be.”
The area of the Yucatan Peninsula where the Mayans built their cities between AD250 and AD900 has no rivers and they captured and stored water in elaborate underground reservoirs, living prosperous lives until a series of devastating droughts.
In Maya Underworld, Bunuel’s National Geographic team filmed archaeologists exploring some of these extremely deep reservoirs, finding in one graphic evidence of how desperate the Mayans became as the water dried up.
Initially they sacrificed adults to appease the water god Choc but, as the droughts progressed, they began to kill their children and divers found ample evidence of this in the deep still waters.
“We have to try to understand who they were and how their experience relates to our experience,” Bunuel said.
“The reservoirs or cenotes we went diving in were the places where they believed a god called Choc lived. They thought these were the gateway to the underworld.
“As the water diminished they threw people into the cenotes believing the sacrifice would restore them to favour with the god. Eventually they thought they had to kill their children as a way to satisfy him. It didn’t work, the cities are still there but the people left the area.”
The Survivors’ Guide to the Mayan Apocalypse starts on December 16 at 4.30pm on National Geographic. Maya Underworld airs on December 19 at 4.30pm.