End of the world may be way off

Theorists who believe the end of the world is nigh may need to find another ancient calendar on which to pin their apocalyptic hopes, according to reports.

There was good news for those who believed in the 2012 Mayan apocalypse: the Mayan "Long Count" calendar might not end on December 21, 2012, a report in LiveScience said.

"By extension, the world may not end along with it," the report said.

"The bad news for prophecy believers (is) if the calendar doesn't end in December 2012, no one knows when it actually will - or if it has already.

"A new critique, published as a chapter in the new textbook Calendars and Years II: Astronomy and Time in the Ancient and Medieval World, argues that the accepted conversions of dates from Mayan to the modern calendar may be off by as much as 50 or 100 years."

That would throw the 2012 apocalypse off by decades and cast doubt on the dates of historical Mayan events, LiveScience said.

"The Mayan calendar was converted to today's Gregorian calendar using a calculation called the GMT constant, named for the last initials of three early Mayanist researchers," the report said.

"Much of the work emphasised dates recovered from colonial documents that were written in the Mayan language in the Latin alphabet, according to the chapter's author, Gerardo Aldana."

"Later, the GMT constant was bolstered by American linguist and anthropologist Floyd Lounsbury, who used data in the Dresden Codex Venus Table, a Mayan calendar and almanac that charts dates relative to the movements of Venus."

Professor Aldana said Mr Lounsbury "took the position that his work removed the last obstacle to fully accepting the GMT constant".

"Others took his work even further, suggesting that he had proven the GMT constant to be correct," said Professor Aldana, from the University of California.

Professor Aldana said Mr Lounsbury's evidence was far from irrefutable.

"If the Venus Table cannot be used to prove the FMT as Lounsbury suggests, its acceptance depends on the reliability of the corroborating data," he said.

That historical data was less reliable than the table itself, causing the argument for the GMT constant to fall "like a stack of cards".
LiveScience said Professor Aldana did not have any answers as to what the correct calendar conversion might be, preferring to focus on why the current interpretation might be wrong.

- The West Australian October 21, 2010