FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 10, 2012
University Relations & Marketing
JOPLIN, MO (SNS) –Students in a class at Missouri Southern State University are deep into the study of a subject prompted by writings from an ancient culture.
Dr. Conrad Gubera (pictured top left) , professor of sociology, and Sam Claussen (lower right), retired theatre faculty member at Southern, are team-teaching a class titled "Maya Civilization and the End of the World."
The teachers and students know that Dec. 21 is approaching. This year the date has particular significance.
On that day, the final day of a circular Maya calendar that dates back at least to the 5th Century B.C., the ancient Maya determined that something would happen. It could be the return of a god-king, the beginning of tidal waves and earthquakes a pole shift or even the end of the world.
Dr. Gubera, for one, isn't convinced.
"The day in the Maya Long Calendar coincides with the winter solstice," Dr. Gubera says, "but it is mentioned no more than twice. All the speculation about December 21 comes from very little evidence."
The teachers say speculation over the day this December has resulted in money being made by a large number of writers, moviemakers and others.
"There is a huge, huge hype," Claussen says. "Go into a bookstore and you'll find a huge section on the Maya. Turn on television and you can usually find some program talking about it. And it's all over the internet."
There are some things we know for sure:
To the ancient Maya, the calendric cycle will reach the end of its 13th b'ak'tun – 20 cycles of the Maya Long Count Calendar-- on the Mayan date of 184.108.40.206. – a date that translates into Dec. 21 of this year.
A b'ak'tun in the Maya calendar is a period of 144,000 days. The number 144,000 has religious significance to both Christians and Moslems.
The number, mentioned three times in the Book of Revelations, equals 12,000 from twelve different Israelite tribes. Each person had a seal on his or her foreheads, indicating redemption. Some Christian religions, particularly Jehovah's witnesses, establish great meaning to the number to this day.
In Islam, 144,000 could be the total number of Sahaba (companions) of Muhammad or, alternately, the total number of prophets. Some scholars calculate a different number.
This much is known for sure: The end date of the Mayan calendar is Dec. 21, 2012, the winter solstice. On that date, the sun will align with the galactic center of the Milky Way at 11:11 GMT - an event that only occurs every 13 thousand years.
It will also will end a 26 thousand year cycle bringing the Astrological Age of Pisces to a conclusion, beginning the Age of Aquarius – although opinions differ widely on that date and year of that conclusion. Some say it might not take place for another century or more.
Another player in the game of speculation is the number 666.
The Book of Revelations states: " . . . both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. " . . . let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty-six." (Revelations 13:16-18 RSV)
Taking the year 2012, two added to zero one equals two. And one added to two equals three. Two divided by three equals... you guessed it . . . 0. 666!
Dr. Gubera and Claussen, who have traveled and led trips to the land of the Maya several times, say people are willing to pay attention to obscure writings from an ancient culture for several reasons.
"It comes down to the first three words of the Holy Bible," Dr. Gubera declares. "It starts with 'In the beginning.' We know each of us is going to die. We know everything alive is going to die. Therefore, we project this idea on the Earth. We think if time has a beginning then it must have an end."
The branch of theology known as eschatology deals with the final events in the history of the world and humanity.
Gubera says it's ironic that the current interest in the end of time derives from the Maya. He says they did not share modern mankind's concept of time.
"The Maya did not even have the word 'I' in their language. Just having that first-person pronoun implies ownership. To us it's very important. In a society that did not have the word 'I' this concept of ownership didn't exists. We think we possess time. But the Maya didn't possess it. They lived within it. Even today people in the Yucatan tend to take what time metes out to them. They are more objective than subjective."
Claussen says the class is dealing with the Mayan culture, as well as hieroglyphics, astronomy and more.
"The Maya knew quite a lot," Claussen comments. "They knew the length of Venus's rotation around the Sun. They had determined the length of a solar year within a ten-thousandth of a day. They knew about the equinox and they knew when the sun would reach its zenith. They used astronomy to base their everyday life on."
Claussen says then, as now, this specialized knowledge was guarded by intellectuals and rulers, who used it to their advantage.
Dr. Gubera says although mankind's interest in the Long Calendar seems unique, it is not the first such event that has excited large numbers of people. Many thought the world might end in the year 1,000. When the year 2,000 came about, the Y2K fury predicted that computer systems would shut down worldwide.
In the 1840s, a prosperous New York state farmer named William J. Miller – the millerites—thought the world would end in the 1840s.
"They gathered, they prayed, they didn't plant their crops," Dr. Gubera states. "People became impoverished and lost farms and businesses waiting for Jesus to swoop them up to heaven."
"Of course, it didn't happen. The same type of thing has taken place repeatedly over the last two centuries."
Claussen says a number of speakers are planned for the class including Dr. Linda Hand of the MSSU math department who has participated in several trips to the Yucatan. Also Dr. Mark Claussen (Sam's brother) will come from his job at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) west of Socorro, New Mexico.
That facility is the operations center for the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) which consists of 27 dish antennas, each with a diameter of 82 feet. The VLA, which has helped peer deep into the universe, was the setting for the movie Contact.
As Dec. 21 draws near, Dr. Gubera and Claussen predict the hype will increase. Claussen says he expects Maya historical temple sites, including Palenque and Chichen Itza in southern Mexico, to be "a zoo."
"I am sure there will be more television shows, more discussions, more stories in the paper," Gubera comments. "Some television networks may even broadcast live from Palenque or some other such location as the big day comes closer."
"This is one reason we are doing this," Claussen says. "Our class proposed to make sense of all this hype."
Just over 30 students are enrolled in the class. Dr. Gubera and Claussen say they are available to speak to church groups and other organizations on a time-available basis.