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Ancient doomsday prophecy worries few area residents

December 19, 2012


It doesn’t bother Jessica MacLellan when people believe theories about Mayans predicting an apocalypse on Dec. 21, 2012, even though she says no such prediction ever happened.

MacLellan is a Ph.D. student at the University of Arizona who has conducted field work on Mayan archaeology in Guatemala. She said the Mayan calendar at the heart of the 2012 apocalypse phenomenon has both cyclical elements akin to months and days of the week and a linear count akin to years, and one of the largest cycles is a bak’tun, or about 400 years. She said the 13th bak’tun ends this month, but she is not certain that end date — let alone the end of the world — correlates with Dec. 21.

“The ancient Maya were very interested in the ends and beginnings of calendrical cycles, like we were excited about Y2K. They would have celebrated this date,” MacLellan said. “However, the Maya did not predict that the world would end. In fact, some of the ancient inscriptions mention dates in the distant future, well after 2012, showing that the Maya expected the world to continue. The calendar does not have an end point.”

The predictions may be in doubt, but locals still have their own responses to the 2012 phenomenon, whether they are preparing for likelier disasters or celebrating like there really is no tomorrow.

MacLellan said there are two roots to the misconception of a Mayan apocalypse prediction: Aztec beliefs about the world’s creation and destruction and a Mayan inscription from the Tortuguero site in Costa Rica that mentions the end of the 13th bak’tun.

“This inscription is often cited as a prophecy about 2012, although the monument says nothing about an apocalypse. After rereading the inscription, experts Steve Houston and David Stuart now argue that this date is not the object of any prophecy at all,” MacLellan said. “The Aztec, a later Mesoamerican civilization, had the idea that the world was created and destroyed several times by different natural disasters and would be destroyed again. This Aztec belief may have led to the erroneous notion that the Maya predicted the end of the world.”

Nate Kneisty, owner of Halfway House, said he doesn’t believe the world will end this Friday either, but he still sees the 2012 phenomenon as an opportunity. Kneisty said he prides himself on Halfway House’s drink selection, and one of its many beers is a Shock Top brand called “End of the World Midnight Wheat.” As such, he plans to host a “Shock Top End of the World Party” on the night of Dec. 21.

“I can see how some people probably wouldn’t like the idea. It’s not something you would celebrate if it was coming true,” Kneisty said. “If it was going to be my last day, I would (want to) spend it with people I cared about in a good atmosphere.”

Kneisty said he does not know of other bars hosting similar parties, largely because many of the Mississippi State University students who typically frequent those bars have left town for winter break. Halfway House’s clientele, by contrast, are largely businesspeople, graduate students, and other older patrons.

“We have a pretty tight little group of people who hang out who are regulars,” Kneisty said. “Our regulars don’t leave to go home. They’re from Starkville; they live in Starkville. We stay busy during the holidays where other bars and restaurants are a little bit slower.”

Oktibbeha County Emergency Management Director Jim Britt said he has not been following the 2012 phenomenon closely, but he has not observed a surge in locals buying up disaster supplies like the surges reported in China, Russia and other countries. He said he does recommend people maintain disaster readiness kits in their homes and their cars with water, food, first aid kits, flashlights, batteries and battery-operated radios.

“I don’t know of many people that have a large stash of that type of thing,” Britt said. “Most people have some of it, but would you have two weeks of water and supplies stored at your home if the water supply were turned off? I don’t.”

Britt said there is good news for those who are not only concerned that disaster may come on Friday but also confused about the form that disaster might take. The federal government upgraded its weather radio alert system this year to the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), an all-hazards radio system, so he said its alerts are no longer limited to weather-related incidents.

“They’ve been working on it for several years,” Britt said. “If there’s a civil emergency, if there’s a need to evacuate or you were to have a hazardous material incident, then (the government can) send out messages about what needed to be done.”

Britt also said more and more local citizens have taken disaster preparedness to heart in the past 10 years. He said the turning points, for many, have included the April 27, 2011 tornadoes that caused heavy damage in Maben, Webster County, Tuscaloosa, Ala. and other Southern cities and an unusual yet destructive weather incident in early 2001 called a derecho that ravaged Starkville itself.

This derecho, Britt said, caused winds to reach 100 mph speeds akin to a hurricane. He said it showed residents that disasters of any kind can strike anywhere at any time, prophecy or no prophecy.

“That’s one reason we encourage citizen emergency response teams,” Britt said. “Members could (come from) a neighborhood, a church or a business. This group trains in such things as basic first aid and how to extinguish fires with fire extinguishers. If you have a tornado, first responders are on the way, but how long is it going to take them to cut down trees? They’ve got to get to you before they can offer assistance.”

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