Archive for Sunday, December 16, 2012

KU professor: Blame American culture, not the Mayas, for Dec. 21 doomsday talk

December 16, 2012


John Hoopes, an associate professor of anthropology at Kansas University, studies ancient civilizations such as the Maya.

John Hoopes, an associate professor of anthropology at Kansas University, studies ancient civilizations such as the Maya.

If the world doesn't end Friday, John Hoopes says, please don't blame the Mayan civilization.

Whatever you've heard or will hear in the run-up to a date that's been assigned special significance — Dec. 21, 2012 — it's just not true that the Mayas predicted that the apocalypse would happen on that day, the Kansas University archaeologist says.

"Hopefully they won't be angry and resentful and feel like it was the Mayas who pulled this big trick on everybody," Hoopes said of anyone who's bought into the doomsday frenzy. "Because it wasn't."

Hoopes, an associate professor of anthropology at KU, has spent nearly a decade studying the "2012 phenomenon," the belief that some sort of global transformative event — be it the end of the world, the arrival of extraterrestrials or something else — would occur on Dec. 21 of this year.

While that belief is often associated with a supposed prophecy made by the Mayas, the people who really deserve credit are countercultural groups and New Age adherents in the United States from the 1970s to today — as well as the Web, Hollywood movies, media outlets and other cultural forces that have helped the idea to flourish.

At this point, the 2012 phenomenon is a worldwide "viral meme," Hoopes says. But he has seized an opportunity to try to educate people about the ancient civilizations, including the Mayas, that have long fascinated him.

"It started out really small and really obscure, and then it became something that everybody knew about," Hoopes said in a phone interview as he prepared to travel to Helsinki for a conference of Mayan scholars in advance of the big day this week.

It certainly true, he says, that Friday would mark a significant date in the Long Count calendar that the Mayas used, according to modern interpretations. But it does not mark the "end" of the calendar.

"This is another myth," Hoopes said. "The calendar doesn't end."

It does mark the end of the calendar's 13th b'ak'tun (pronounced "bok-toon") — a unit of time roughly 394 years long. And the number 13 held special significance to the Mayas, figuring heavily in their calendar and system of math.

"They would still probably be celebrating it, and would probably assign a lot of importance to it," Hoopes said.

But that would only be the case if the Mayas had not stopped using the Long Count calendar about 1,000 years ago, long before the Spanish conquest of the civilization's area in modern-day Mexico and Central America in the 16th Century.

It had essentially disappeared until Western scholars discovered it in the 19th century.

And it wasn't until the 1950s and 1960s that a couple of scholars first linked the end of the 13th b'ak'tun with the idea of destruction or, as one Yale archaelogist wrote in 1966, "armageddon." (He, however, misinterpreted the calendar, estimating the fateful date to be last Dec. 24.)

"That did get the ball rolling, so to speak," Hoopes said.

Hoopes and other scholars now say, however, that the Mayas made no such prediction. Mentions of apocalyptic scenarios by the Mayas were made after the Spanish conquest, and they were probably made by converted Christians referring to the New Testament Book of Revelation, or perhaps even referring to the Spanish conquest itself retroactively.

"There were no prophecies of a coming end of the world by the Mayas before the arrival of the Spanish," Hoopes said.

But by the 1970s, New Age and countercultural groups had begun pulling from scholarly work evidence of a supposed prophecy of destruction, picking and choosing pieces that fit the theory.

"One of the things I say, kind of tongue-in-cheek, is if it seems like this mythology was thought up by people on drugs, it's because it was," Hoopes said.

The 12/21/12 date was first linked to the end of the 13th b'ak'tun in an archaeologist's book in 1983, and it was popularized amidst the New Age Harmonic Convergence event in 1987. Its convergence with the winter solstice and a peculiar astrological alignment caused it to draw more notice.

Personal computers allowed adherents to publish their own texts about the 2012 phenomenon, and the emergence of the World Wide Web in the 1990s fueled it further. Fears of Y2K doomsday scenarios stoked the fire.

Mel Gibson's 2006 movie "Apocalypto" heightened interest in the Mayan civilization, and the 2009 disaster film "2012" turned the apocalypse theory into a full-blown cultural force.

"It's kind of a weird thing: a very obscure calendar of one of the world's many cultures," Hoopes said, "and it's become a global phenomenon."

Though that phenomenon has been linked to misperceptions and myths of the Mayas, Hoopes has tried to use the hype as an opportunity to educate, commenting on the subject in The New York Times, USA Today, numerous TV shows and other media outlets. He's published academic articles on the subject and served as an author and editor for the "2012 phenomenon" article on Wikipedia. (The article, which he says is perhaps the best source on the subject, will be Wikipedia's featured article on Dec. 20.)

After he returns from his conference in Helsinki, he'll be joining other archaeologists at Chichen Itza, perhaps the best-known Mayan city, in Mexico, where a music festival and other celebrations will mark the occasion.

"I saw this as an opportunity to teach about ancient indigenous cultures of the Americas," Hoopes said.

But what his studies on the subject have taught him about most, he says, is not the Mayan civilization but modern-day American culture, and how its various sects, forces and media can take an idea to unimagined places.

"If you want to study a weird, exotic culture, you don't have to travel across the world or into the jungles of Central America," Hoopes said. "It's right here around us."


anticommunist 5 years, 4 months ago

I don't see how this qualifies as actual "research" at all. Waste of our tax money.

Brian Laird 5 years, 4 months ago

Judging someone's research by what they read in a newspaper article is not really all that bright. To formulate such an opinion you would have to look at that person's scholarly writings - however, that is probably too much work for someone who is intellectually lazy and would rather just take uninformed potshots at people from the anonymity of the internet.

5 years, 4 months ago

Yes, it's drivel. But even worse, it makes colleges' employment figures look bad.

I mean, every graduate gets those little cards that ask what they are doing, how much they are making, and the like - it's required by the KSBOR. But how many anthropology majors can honestly claim they are "working in their field of study"? It's like philosophy majors who don't philosophize and art historian/wimmin studies/eng lit majors who serve double-something-something* lattes to people who have actual jobs. They are skewing the curve that actual, forward-looking students are working so hard to set.

Not all these anthropology majors who spend 5 or 6 figures on an aptly-named BS degree get decades of living off the taxpayers for their troubles. In fact, only a very lucky few do. The rest get to occupy South Park and complain about how if the world really understood their greatness, it would pay them a living wage to create terrible, dry prose that no one cares about today nor ever will.

Until, God forbid, anthropology majors of the 24 1/2 century dig it up and conclude that we all talked that way...

  • No, I don't know the actual names of those drinks.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 4 months ago

Too bad they can't all get business degrees and accounting degrees and get well paid to run the economy into the ground like happened in the collapse of the housing bubble.

merickson 5 years, 4 months ago

I'll chime in here to add some perspective:

As boltzmann here suggests, this work regarding the 2012 phenomenon hardly sums up John Hoopes' activities at KU. If you peek at his vita posted on his KU faculty page (, you'll see he's published research on many other subjects, won research grants and teaching awards, helped out with various campus entities and more.

This has just been an interest of his the past 10 years or so, and he's one of the foremost experts out there, so we thought it would be fun to let folks know, as they hear more and more about all the "apocalypse" business this week, that we've got someone here in town who knows quite a bit about it.

Thanks, all, for reading and commenting.

Matt Erickson

KU reporter

jwhoopes2 5 years, 3 months ago

Thanks, Matt! This interest began as a casual hobby and then moved front and center as the Web (including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), movies, TV programming, and news media made it relevant. Anthropology is about understanding all cultures, especially our own. I think the provocative headline accomplished its goal. Thanks for covering this issue! (By the way, I spent December 21 at Chichén Itzá--on my own dime, not the taxpayers'--observing how various constituencies experienced the big day.)

voevoda 5 years, 4 months ago

You think that it's not worthwhile to debunk falsehoods that a lot of uninformed people believe? Certainly it's a great deal worthwhile than circulating falsehoods, and a remarkably large number of people make very good livings doing just that.

mcallaigh 5 years, 4 months ago

sounds like you flunked out of anthropology

Katara 5 years, 4 months ago

A Forbes

Anthropology works very well with business. Many businesses hire anthropologists for a variety of things. Here is a sampling of how anthropology has been applied in the business world. You probably just don't understand that the jobs aren't always labeled as anthropological jobs.

" 1. The anthropological study of contextual management and marketing phenomena and cultural issues in the business environment
2. The anthropological study of organizational and strategic behavior
3. The anthropological study of consumer behavior,branding, advertising and marketing communication strategies
4. Ethnographic methods and applications in business studies
5. The anthropological study of cross-cultural business communications and practices
6. The anthropological study of product design and development
7. The anthropological study of international business strategies
8. The applications of anthropology in business education
9. The anthropological study of organizational development and change
10. The anthropological study of entrepreneurships

Katara 5 years, 4 months ago


"Here we study how to improve work processes by observing how people work. For all of us, there are probably ways our processes could be improved that would make our work easier and more efficient. Anthropologists are specialists in looking. For example, Lucy Suchman observed the use of Xerox machines and discovered that multiple features on a machine were not always making work easier. Machines had gotten so complicated that the untrained user could not just walk up to a machine and easily figure out how to make a single copy. As a result of Suchman’s research, Xerox now makes all copy machines, no matter how complex, with a single, green, copy button so that anyone can easily perform the simple task of making a copy. Another example is Bonnie Nardi’s work at Hewlett-Packard where she helpeddevelop a more efficient spreadsheet after seeing that the one developed by the method engineers was not being used in the way they had imagined (Weise, 1999)."

Cite in my post below.

Additionally in the articles I posted below, anthropologists helped develop popular and lucrative products such as the ones who worked for General Mills who came up with the idea of Yoplait's Go-Gurt.

If you want more examples, please read the links I posted :) It is all there if you care to observe it.

Katara 5 years, 4 months ago

You obviously are not reading them fully. Please try the PowerPoint presentation I posted. It seems like that would work better for you.

Katara 5 years, 4 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Katara 5 years, 4 months ago

Odd. Comment removed for pointing that the info has been posted many times & for pointing out that Socialism does not involve a private corporation hiring someone.

Yet comments insulting John Hoopes and anyone who is interested in an Anthropology degree stand.

Katara 5 years, 4 months ago

Frankly, I didn't expect it to consume so much. It must be a teenage troll.

mcallaigh 5 years, 4 months ago

no, no, no... I got it. You're ex-girlfriend has an anthropology degree.

Katara 5 years, 4 months ago

Anthropological skills are used in all those positions.

Katara 5 years, 4 months ago

Uh huh. That's fine if you don't want to believe that the skills gained by studying anthropology are worth much. Major corporations such as Proctor & Gamble, General Mills and Xerox disagree with you

Katara 5 years, 4 months ago

Yup, they are. Again, the PowerPoint presentation is definitely more your speed. It contains a list of various corporations who employ anthropologists.

Katara 5 years, 4 months ago

"When people think about what anthropologists do they focus on academic teaching and research; but actually, anthropologists are employed in a wide variety of jobs. According to the American Anthropological Association (, businesses, academic institutions, and non-profit organizations hire anthropologists. Many businesses including Intel, Citicorp, AT&T, Kodak, Sapient, Hauser Design, Boeing, Motorola, Walt Disney, Microsoft, General Mills, and Hallmark, to name a few, hire anthropologists to do research on consumer habits and develop strategies to promote their products. Anthropologists also work in the health professions, and Alabama graduates have gone on to careers with the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Turning Point (domestic violence and sexual assault services), and Brewer’s Porch School (treatment program for Alabama’s special needs children). Archaeologists find careers in cultural resource management with institutions and companies such as the National Park Service, the National Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Army of Engineers, State Historic Preservation offices and private consulting firms, like Panamerican Consultants, Inc. in Tuscaloosa."

The military even hires them.

Katara 5 years, 4 months ago

Your slideshows are pretty but they don't do much in the way of providing info. Anthropology can be applied to the business world in many ways. In fact, there is a subset of that actually called "Applied Anthropology".

And my links provide concrete examples of how businesses have benefited from anthropology. It is a much bigger field that you seem to think and the skills gained by studying anthropology are applicable in any field.

Katara 5 years, 4 months ago

Perhaps a PowerPoint presentation is more your speed?

Katara 5 years, 4 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

voevoda 5 years, 4 months ago

People who have studied anthropology know better than to measure the worth of education by the dollar amount of earnings.

Pal 5 years, 4 months ago

I'd do anything for tax payers money....except anthropology.

riverdrifter 5 years, 4 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

5 years, 4 months ago

I suspect even saying "American culture" is painting with too broad a brush. I have yet to meet a single person IRL who has shown even the slightest trepidation about the Mayan calender. While a couple people posted ironic "no there won't be any Twinkies for the Zombie Apocalypse" pics on Facebook pages, often with awesome Zombieland screenshots, no one has brought it up in water cooler or shooting range conversation. It's simply a non-issue.

So either it's wholly media/youtube/alternative media driven, or everyone knows about it but is too scared to say anything.

My money is on the former, FWIW.

Pal 5 years, 4 months ago

I am worried. If there was a reason that indicated the world would not end, I would have received my new Long Count calendar in the mail...I have not yet received it....hey Hoopes! Did you get yours yet?

jwhoopes2 5 years, 3 months ago

As a matter of fact, I did!

You can get one, too. It will support the Maya Exploration Center.

jwhoopes2 5 years, 3 months ago

For the record, I'm pretty sure I never used the phrase "blame American culture" in my interview for the Lawrence Journal-World. If you you don't like the headline, blame the editors at the LJW, not me. All I said was that the Mayas were not to blame. They weren't.

lunacydetector 5 years, 4 months ago

i like this hoopes guy. i especially liked the quote:

"If you want to study a weird, exotic culture, you don't have to travel across the world or into the jungles of Central America," Hoopes said. "It's right here around us."

....i want to add, "It's right here around us, right here in Lawrence, Kansas." :)

i thoroughly enjoyed the movie, Apocolypto. I suggest the people blasting Mr. Hoopes watch it. If you feel you need to go out and buy every canned item on the shelf, I suggest an appointment with a psychiatrist instead....besides, the end of the world isn't going to happen on the 21st, it will happen on the 22nd- after the collective sigh of relief, ha, ha.

JonDanzig 5 years, 4 months ago

The predicted world’s end on 21 December is irrational scare-mongering nonsense – but the ‘Millennium Bug’ was not. There’s a difference, and it’s important to the human race that we understand what it is. See my latest blog: ‘Mayan Catastrophe versus Millennium Bug’:

Short link:

question4u 5 years, 4 months ago

"Waste of our tax payer money"

Hardly. The KU budget shows that 2013 operating expenditures from the state general fund ($139,233,330) make up 27% of the total ( $643,387,579). The university's major revenues come from other sources, especially tuition. In the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences the tuition revenues from departments like anthropology, which generate revenue, are distributed to cover expenses for departments like mathematics and physics, which have few majors and are expensive to run.

Try running the STEM programs at KU solely with $139,233,330 from the state and the tuition money generated by STEM students. Good luck keeping the lights on, the lawns cut, and the library open.

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 4 months ago

Get your facts straight. In CLAS, the three departments with the most tuition revenue generated are Psychology, Biology, and English. Most of the English credits are taught by TAs and not professors, and there are very few humanities majors overall.

Biology also brings in millions in grant overhead that goes to support programs in CLAS.

In your last paragraph you should replace "STEM" with "humanities".

melott 5 years, 4 months ago

Overhead, which is more than 30% of the research grant funds received by physics and astronomy and others, goes into the university general coffers, and is used for a variety of support expenses around the university. On Dec 21, the overhead goes away. ;>)

Fred Whitehead Jr. 5 years, 4 months ago

Wow, let's all pile on the KU prof!!

This incredibly stupid and insane notion that some fool dreamed up has been all over the psycho-media, Hostory Channel, Discovery Channel, Nat Geo Channel, Fox news,is right up there with UFO's super volcanos, doomsday preppers, Alaska, hot motorcycles and pawn shops. It is Y2K all over again and just as pointless and stupid.

Selected morons have been predicting the end of the world for centuries. Jesus really blew it when he made comment that he would return again. Every fool who slavishly believes the Bible cobbled up by King James in England in 1611 has been setting a date. Keep in mind that JC warned us against that very thing. Some have even projected their hysteria onto the Book of Revelation with this "rapture of the Church" nonsense.

P.T. Barnum was right.

jwhoopes2 5 years, 3 months ago

Right on. However, it wasn't Barnum.

P. T. Barnum Never Did Say "There's a Sucker Born Every Minute"

Jeremiah Jefferson 5 years, 4 months ago

I didn't read the article, but I would say the Professor is right. But I wouldn't stop at the culture of the United States. Its getting to the point where your safer to live in a 3rd world country with a remote native tribe eating rice and insects than it is to live in a fully functional society with all the ameneties.

itsalwayssunnyinlarry 5 years, 4 months ago

Count on the ljworld commenters to totally miss the point of the article. He's just trying to clear up some misinformation that the media is making a huge profit from.

Aiko 5 years, 4 months ago

That's a Tequila bottle in the picture!

jwhoopes2 5 years, 3 months ago

Vodka, actually. From Dan Aykroyd's company. It's a cool bottle.

Crystal Head Vodka

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 4 months ago

In response to question4U:

There are 1500 biology majors at KU, a STEM discipline. While there are fewer chemistry, physics and math majors, all biology majors must take multiple classes in each of these. STEM disciplines do more than hold there own in terms of tuition revenue, plus they tend to bring in much more grant overhead than social "sciences" and humanities.

In many respects, STEM departments allow huge humanities and social "sciences" departments to exist.

Jim Williamson 5 years, 4 months ago

I don't know what the hell you're all whining about. All I know is Alton Brown is teaching at KU now.

itsalwayssunnyinlarry 5 years, 4 months ago

I've taken one of the his classes, unfortunately he doesn't really look like alton in person I totally see it in that picture though. haha

Aiko 5 years, 4 months ago

KH- Yes, not bad tequila but the bottle is the main attraction...

Katara 5 years, 4 months ago

Pretty much the same gimmick as Black Death vodka and cigarettes.

/still has the coffin somewhere

Kontum1972 5 years, 4 months ago

actually i feel personally what happened at Sandy Hook school was the end and awakening of the world.....why children? I am sure most of you have children and grandchildren..... mental health is the is bar-fly mothers and fathers...children do not ask to be born! PAX

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