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."


Gandalf 1 year, 3 months ago

I bet the anthropologists are having a field bisecting these threads! lol


Kontum1972 1 year, 3 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


Aiko 1 year, 3 months ago

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


Karl_Hungus 1 year, 3 months ago

So, has anyone tried that $60 Skull Vodka? Worth the price? Is made by Dan Aykroyd so I am sure that no neocons will like it


Karl_Hungus 1 year, 3 months ago

So I am going to take a wild guess here and say that this whole removal of non-topic posts is really about ideology rather than actual policy.

"Wow. This guy gets paid by the state to tell people how dumb they are. Grand Wizard of PC-Humanism, er, "associate professor". This is precisely what's wrong with the academy"

"sounds like you flunked out of anthropology"

"Having fun feeding the troll?"

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


Jim Williamson 1 year, 3 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.


yourworstnightmare 1 year, 3 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.


Aiko 1 year, 3 months ago

That's a Tequila bottle in the picture!


itsalwayssunnyinlarry 1 year, 3 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.


catfishturkeyhunter 1 year, 3 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.


Fred Whitehead Jr. 1 year, 3 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.


melott 1 year, 3 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. ;>)


question4u 1 year, 3 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.


JonDanzig 1 year, 3 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:


lunacydetector 1 year, 3 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.


anticommunist 1 year, 3 months ago

"Blame American culture" - Because all of anthropology can be reduced to one big PC blame game.


Pal 1 year, 3 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?


1 year, 3 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 1 year, 3 months ago

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


tange 1 year, 3 months ago

"Anthropology is consistently rated the most worthless major...."

Guess it depends on the criteria, eh?

Got any more quantities you can enumerate?


anticommunist 1 year, 3 months ago

Anthropology is consistently rated the most worthless major:

"Unemployment rate for *recent grads: 10.5% Median earnings for recent grads: $28,000

Unemployment rate for *experienced grads: 6.2% Median earnings for experienced grads: $47,000

*Recent college graduates are ages 22 to 26, and experienced workers are ages 30 to 54"


anticommunist 1 year, 3 months ago

Wow. This guy gets paid by the state to tell people how dumb they are. Grand Wizard of PC-Humanism, er, "associate professor". This is precisely what's wrong with the academy.


anticommunist 1 year, 3 months ago

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


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