The annotated apocalypse: Anthropologists tackle 2012


40 Responses to “The annotated apocalypse: Anthropologists tackle 2012”

  1. As soon as we spawn a culture that doesn’t feel it’s living the end times, we’re probably screwed… Homo sapiens is mighty weird, man.

  2. I’m taking pre-orders for my soon-to-be-blockbuster book IN THE BEGINNING: (August 11, 3114 BCE): THE COUNTDOWN TO ARMAGEDDON BEGINS

  3. lutherblissett says:

    “synchronistic prophecies…” or syncretist?

  4. sally jacobs says:

    My favorite 2012 joke:

    Q. What does it mean when the Mayan calendar ends?

    A. It is time to buy a new Mayan calendar.

  5. Thorzdad says:

    Sadly, the actual experts are getting to the party too late, and will probably be dismissed by the “experts” as part of the elitist scientific establishment that wants to keep people in-the-dark about the coming end of the world.

    • CountZero says:

      He pretty much covered that point;
      “I think that actually polarizes the dialogue sometimes. Scientists and academics end up being seen as the bad guys. A lot of this mythology falls into anti-authoritarian mythology. “What the official sources tell you isn’t true. There’s a conspiracy to hide the truth.” The trailer for the 2012 movie said something along the lines of, “If governments knew about a world wide catastrophe, would they tell you?” It raises suspicion of authority. And I don’t think many academics are prepared to deal with people who are hostile to authority and who have made up their minds that scholars are lying or are part of the conspiracy.”

  6. This is really interesting. Unfortunately, all the conference papers are behind a paywall. Worse, I can’t find any of them on the personal websites of the authors. Astronomy seems to be a bit  better about this than archaeoastronomy. If this were astronomy proper I’d expect to be able to find at least some of them. These papers look interesting but as a grad student in another field on a limited budget I’m not going to pay for them. 

  7. Keenen Stohr says:

    I just hope Cartman lets Butters out of there soon

  8. Peter says:

    I will bet any takers $100,000 that the world does not end on December 21st, 2012.   Hell, I’ll make it sweeter, I’ll give you until 2013, just in case it happens to take a week. 

  9. Jim Saul says:

    That last bit about the influence of the psychedelic movement is important… wasn’t it Terrance “Christianity is a mushroom cult” McKenna who really boosted the idea that there was a Mayan prophecy about 2012 and not just an interesting calendar date?

    So, what’s the next one going to be? I’m sure the Apophis passes in 2029/2036 will be a doomer focus, but what dates are coming up sooner that will provide a handy hook for the end-times industry?

  10. Pag says:

    I think it’s fascinating how the end of the world is such a popular belief right now. 2012, the rapture, the collapsing economy, global warming, … Everybody is convinced that the world will end very soon, there’s just disagreement on how it will happen.

  11. From the Books of Chilam Balam Not

    When the reign of Bama of Oh is coming to an end
    The sign of the Tea Bag on high, there will come to us
    The upright beam, it will manifest itself
    To light the world.
    The union ended, envy ended,
    When the bearer of the future sign came to us,
    The priest lord,
    You shall see it from afar
    Coming. The Twitter of the beam comes
    To awaken us. From everywhere
    It comes to us. To the power of SuperPACs
    Approaches our master, Beth of Warren.
    Your brother is coming now.
    Receive your bearded hippies from the east,
    Bearers of the standard of Green.
    Receive the word of Krugman which
    Comes to us on the day of the double dip
    Which is feared by all in the world, Lord,
    What kind of God would admit to creating us?

  12. Are there any good websites for research on fringe doomsday cults? All I could find is and it doesn’t look like its been updated since the late 90s. 

  13. Pend-O-Matic says:

    I think what should be looked at is how big the 2012 phenomenon is world wide. If people around the world are at least talking about it- it does not tell us that Armageddon is near, but it can tell us (if it is a world-wide phenomenon) that, something is happening. Just as talk of “The Revolution” around the 60′s was an indicator that culture was changing. So of course we can dismiss Armageddon, but I don’t know if we can dismiss it as an indicator of changing culture.

  14. occlupanid says:

    This is a really great interview, thank you! Great way to start a (late) Saturday with scholarly discussions about crazy things.

  15. vettekaas says:

    Interesting article and references.  Prof. Hoopes also has put his finger on something else that is of particular interest to me:

    “That it requires a lot of scholarship and reading, and you have to look
    at the original academic literature. You can’t rely on popular
    magazines. You have to evaluate the primary information itself. Lots of
    people can’t afford the academic training they want and so they try to
    do it themselves and wind up with an autodidactic education that
    includes a lot of bizarre and totally wrong speculative literature. In
    fact, a lot of people writing about this are self taught in the same

    I agree, but academia has made it very difficult for folks who are not affiliated with a particular institution of higher learning to access the ‘original academic literature.’  This has been a problem for me, for example, being a grad student.  It’s all good when I’m on campus, but, for example, this year, I’m going to spend a year in France and the University library has cut off my remote access to their journal subscriptions.  I had to pay a bunch of money and use a little-well-known policy at the local community college to be able to access interlibrary loan materials since I’ve spent the summer at my parents’ house… but still no access to articles.

    It’s even worse for folks who want to attend grad school abroad.  You often have to take an entrance exam and have a research project already planned out.  How on earth can you do that without access to decent library resources?  And how to access those resources without already being a grad student?  You can’t! 

    Maybe people could right more informed books if they could have access to the ‘actual research.’  Just sayin’

    • wmager says:

      Access to decent library resources is generally rather simple if you’re willing to physically be in the library when doing work: most public university libraries are open to the public and allow public access to electronic journals, and many of them even allow the public to check out books.

      That said, there is a major problem in academia with open access, and history-related fields seem to be particularly severe in this regard. I know of several professors in dance history, for example, who not only refrain from publishing most of their research for fear of others reading it and making them less personally useful to other researchers, but also keep their primary sources in their private libraries, restricting access as much as possible.

      The hard sciences are becoming drastically more open as of late; hopefully this attitude will eventually diffuse into other fields as well.

  16. @boingboing-5a1b53ff51d5b52f8b4911712e5dff6c:disqus 
    If you’re coming to France, you can probably arrange access through a French university or through the American University in Paris library. Strange as it may seem, we have joined the internets over here.

    An excellent interview – and it already cost me $23 at Amazon.

  17. Eark_the_Bunny says:

    The great irony about all this Armageddon, doomsday and end of the world talk is no one seems to realize that Armageddon, doomsday and end of the world has already happened!  Do you really think that all this nonsense we see in the news everyday could really exist in a sane world.  We are all living in the Twilight Zone except me, of course.

    • nick15 says:

      You’re assuming that the nonsense of the world only existed within the last fifty years, or rather, nonsense of the world didn’t exist before those fifty years.

      The world has ALWAYS been full of nonsense. That’s why religion exist to try to make heads-and-tales of it (pun intended). In fact, the Greek Pantheon was built upon the idea that the Gods WERE human-like, because the world couldn’t be NATURALLY stupid and chaotic and pointless (right?).

      That is, unless you DO mean that the end of the world has already happened… ten thousand years ago upon the dawn of human civilization…?

  18. lukegarret says:

    I find “The Pizza Effect” an interesting idea but I am confused by the examples given. It seems it may be more of an issue when a “genuine” idea is sought after. In the case of the Mayan text, there are few sources which did not originate through the perspective of a foreign culture. Unlike the academic goals in understanding Mayan culture, pizza and Hinduism are living cultures which develop by the exchanges of ideas. The origins of Pizza and original Hindu texts are very much available without the latest cultural perspectives injected.

  19. RJ says:

    To say that some old calendar accurately foretells an extinction-level event is no different than saying your car will explode like an H-bomb when the odometer hits a certain number.

    Let’s look at some basic facts to back me up: the world is somewhere around 4.5 billion years old. Anatomically modern humans are thought to have first appeared somewhere around 200,000 years ago and became behaviorally modern (civilized) somewhere around 50,000 years ago. From the earth’s point of view, we just showed up earlier today. Still, 50,000 years is such a huge amount of time that it’s very hard to grasp the concept in any meaningful way, never mind 4.5 billion years.

    It’s thought that our home star, Sol (the sun), is somewhere around middle-age right now, which is actually only slightly older than the earth (4.57 billion years old, compared to the 4.51b of earth). If we assume a relationship between the age of the sun and the age of the earth, we can estimate that our world is likely to exist for another 4.5 billion years, give or take a hundred million. If the sun goes Red Giant later in life, it will consume the earth and maybe shave a half-billion years off our life expectancy.

    By the time that happens, homo sapiens sapiens will almost certainly be long gone, replaced by whatever awesome race of creatures evolve from us. I have every confidence that the loss of earth at that point will be incidental to our descendants. The biggest threat to human survival today isn’t from some silly religious prediction, but from each other.

  20. LeftyX says:

    I’ve favored these 2 explanations ever since I found them:

    • Jose Alberto Abreu says:

      That’s the “Aztec Calendar”* or Sunstone in the cartoons, not the actual Mayan stele. But otherwise yeah, the cartoons hit the spot right on.

      * not really a calendar either

  21. nanuq says:

    The depressing part is that the 2012 Apocalypse has become a major industry.  The French town of Bugarach has become Doomsday Central for thousands of people who believe that it’s the best place for survival.  French authorities are getting worried what they’ll do if there isn’t a doomsday on schedule.

  22. i wrote a scifi style novel what paints an utopian scenario for the 2012 time

  23. urbanspaceman says:

    I think the Mayan calendar’s only off by a month and a day. The end of the world will occur precisely at noon on January 20th, 2013 when the United States becomes the Republic of Gliead.

  24. billstewart says:

    2012 is also about when we run out of IPv4 addresses – oh, noes!    And here’s Two Lumps’s take on the end of the calendar and Dogbert’s.  But yeah, it’s really about the Mckennas and other psychedelic explorers getting entranced by a big round number.  Some articles have also noticed that there are Mayan prophecies that are supposed to take place long after 2012; 2012 is just when this one rolls over an you need to carve yourself a new stone refrigerator magnet.

  25. Michael Franklin says:

    The problem is clearly mapped out above; mainstream science is going to rigorously ignore any subject that someone thinks of before they do. It will be labeled ‘fringe’ and discarded based on no more than that.

    Now, this isn’t to say that the world ends in 2012… but it does pull the curtain back on the biggest failure of modern science. If there were some effort made to study the subject issues, and then relate the findings to the general public, there might well be far fewer fringists and a lot more people who didn’t see science as a dusty leather-bound desk in a cobwebbed library filled with musty people who find comfort in the stagnation of the status quo. 

    It’s just too much like politics… and we’re all sick to death of that, lol.

  26. Plainsman says:

    The About.Com archaeology site covered this over a year ago:

  27. Brainspore says:

    Speaking of unfounded hype… has anyone here actually MET anyone who believes some cataclysm-level superthing is going to happen in 2012? I have yet to encounter anyone who believes- or knows someone who believes- that the end of the Mayan calendar will herald any earth-shaking event. More than anything else the 2012 hoopla I’ve heard has come from us in the enlightened scientific community as evidence of how much smarter we are than the rest of the teeming masses.

    • Gulliver says:

      You evidently don’t know many hippies or visit the metaphysics/spirituality section of your local bookstores. Not all Twenty-Twelvers are apocalyptic though. Some see it as a defenestration of existing civilization to make way for a New Age-esque society. Others think it merely marks a tipping point (watch this category gain converts when the world fails to end). Most see it as cyclic in some way or another, mirroring the cyclical nature of Norse, Indian and Lovecraftian mythologies. And yes, many think a rouge planet or black hole or very long period comet or other force of nature will wipe us out. One believer’s Armageddon is another’s rapture.

      As Hoopes indicated, serious scientists are reluctant to even acknowledge the 2012 movement.

  28. JK Humbert says:

    It is simple.  2012 is a Christian (protestant) scare tactic to make people give up their possessions to their church in turn to be saved.  I hear them say only God knows when and where yet it seems all these pastors have inside tracks to the veiled info.  BS. Save your money so that on Jan 1, 2013 you and yours can take a great vacation.  Even if it did happen, why would people want to stick around in a world totally destroyed,  Their narscicism allows them to believe they will return the earth to purity.  You know if any groups survive the first thing that will occur is a war over which group God revealed the truth to.. ENJOY LIFE every day and if the end is coming, pop a few Valium sit back and watch the fireworks as you drift slowly off to your last sleep.  My old church’s minister says we would be the only survivors… how many others have heard the same from theirs?  Yeah that’s a “new world” I want to wake up to.

  29. meanderheavy says:

    “That it requires a lot of scholarship and reading, and you have to look
    at the original academic literature. You can’t rely on popular
    magazines. You have to evaluate the primary information itself. Lots of
    people can’t afford the academic training they want and so they try to
    do it themselves and wind up with an autodidactic education that
    includes a lot of bizarre and totally wrong speculative literature. In
    fact, a lot of people writing about this are self taught in the same
    Basically, the autodidact has a lot of heavy lifting to do, intellectually speaking, to make sure they actually get it right.  The internet is great in that it encourages people to learn on their own.  Unfortunately, by itself the internet cannot teach us to not be sloppy and lazy in our research and thinking.

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