(NEW YORK) — The countdown to the apocalypse is on. One year from Wednesday — Dec. 21, 2012 — is the date the ancient Mayan Long Count calendar allegedly marked as the end of an era, when the date would reset to zero and humanity would come to an end.
But will that happen?
There have been many end of times predictions over the years. Christian radio host Harold Camping faced widespread ridicule when his predictions that the world would end twice this year — on May 21, and then on Oct. 21 — failed to materialize.
But in the flurry of doomsday predictions — there have been similar dire warnings about the world coming to an end from various cultures, including Native Americans, the Chinese, Egyptians and even the Irish — the supposed Mayan prophecy seems to have held the most sway with believers.
The Mayan civilization, which reached its height from 300 A.D. to 900 A.D., had a talent for astronomy. Advanced mathematics and primitive astronomy flourished, creating what many have called the most accurate calendar in the world.
The Mayans predicted a final event that included a solar shift, a Venus transit and violent earthquakes.
Their Long Count calendar begins in 3,114 B.C., marking time in roughly 394-year periods known as Baktuns. Thirteen was a significant, a sacred number for the Mayans, and they wrote that the 13th Baktun ends on Dec. 21, 2012.
The doomsday theories stem from a stone tablet discovered in the 1960s at the archaeological site of Tortuguero in the Gulf of Mexico state of Tabasco that describes the return of a Mayan god at the end of a 13th period.
The blogosphere exploded with more speculation when Mexico’s archaeology institute acknowledged on Nov. 24 a second reference to Dec. 21, 2012, on a brick found at other ruins.
In southern Mexico, the heart of Mayan territory, a yearlong celebration is planned. Mexico’s tourism agency expects to draw 52 million visitors by next year only to the regions of Chiapas, Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, and Campeche. It’s selling the date as a time of renewal.
For those who are thinking about how to spend what could be their last year on earth, here’s a message of hope: Many archeologists argue that the 2012 reference on a 1,300-year-old stone tablet only marks the end of a cycle in the Mayan calendar. Recent research also suggests the mythological date of the “end of days” may be off by 50 to 100 years.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio
Ben Westcott, CNN
Stephanie Halasz, Jason Hanna and Livia Borghese, CNN
Chandrika Narayan and Steve Almasy, CNN
Juliet Perry, Tim Hume and Livia Borghese, CNN