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MAYA 2012: Lords of Time

By Penn Museum

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Ancient Maya civilization flourished long ago in what is now southern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, and El Salvador. Their distinctive culture gave rise to major cities by 500 BCE. For the next two thousand years, the Maya ruled this area, an independence that ended only with the Spanish Conquest of the New World. The 9th and 10th centuries CE saw a dramatic decline in population in cities that had once been the Maya heartland. Each city faced unique problems including drought, warfare, soil exhaustion, and overpopulation. However, the Maya did not disappear. People of Maya descent, speaking a range of Mayan languages, some using aspects of the ancient Maya Calendar, live today in many parts of Mexico and Central America. Online, in movies, on television, and in print, news has been spreading that a world-transforming apocalypse will happen in December 2012. In recent years, some have claimed that this cataclysmic event was foretold centuries ago in the calendar of the ancient Maya. Beliefs about the exact nature of this cataclysm vary. Some believe that a celestial alignment will bring a series of devastating natural disasters. Others argue that this event will bring enlightenment and a new age of peace. As this date draws closer, new predictions continue to emerge. But what did the Maya really believe?