For Immediate Release - Much Ado about Nothing: 2012 and the Maya

Listen to the lecture: "Much Ado About Nothing: 2012 and the Maya"

(Cambridge, October 19, 2009) Did the ancient Mayas predict December 21, 2012 as the catastrophic end of the world?  The popular theory has spawned books, documentaries, and a Hollywood disaster movie (slated for release in early November 2009).

The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology presents a free lecture, “Much Ado about Nothing: 2012 and the Maya,” on Thursday, November 19, 2009 at 5:30 PM at Harvard’s Geological Lecture Hall, 24 Oxford St., Cambridge.  “The 2012 meme has been hijacked by New Age enthusiasts and dubiously linked to everything from galactic alignments to the prophecies of Nostradamus,” warns Peabody Museum archaeologist Marc Zender, who studies the ancient Maya culture and its calendar. In this talk, Zender will enlist William Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing. He suggests the famous romantic comedy about deceit, mistaken identity, and the peril of unexamined assumptions will “shed some light on the New Age nonsense surrounding the supposed Maya ‘end date’ of 2012.” For example, the “end date” itself is mentioned on a single 7th-century monument in a passage that is open to several interpretations. Also, the ancient calendar itself passed into oblivion over five hundred years ago. As a result, there is little contemporary documentation regarding the Maya view of 2012, and no authentic modern tradition concerning it. But Maya doomsday theorists are not daunted by the lack of evidence. The contrast between the evidence and the theory propagated in the public consciousness provides a cautionary tale in the grand tradition of Shakespeare.

About Marc Zender

Marc Zender (PhD 2004, Archaeology, University of Calgary) is a Research Associate in Maya Hieroglyphic Writing at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, and a Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology. 

He also assists Joel Skidmore in maintaining Mesoweb, a major internet resource for the study of Mesoamerican culture. Zender's research interests include anthropological and historical linguistics, comparative writing systems and decipherment (particularly of Mayan and Aztec writing) and Mesoamerican archaeology. Since 1998, Marc has been the project epigrapher for the Proyecto Arqueológico de Comalcalco, directed by Ricardo Armijo Torres, and he has undertaken archaeological, linguistic and epigraphic fieldwork in much of the Maya area, most recently in Copan, Honduras, where he assists Dr. William L. Fash in teaching the Harvard Field School. Marc’s recent publications include "One Hundred and Fifty Years of Nahuatl Decipherment (PARI Journal 8(4): 24-37) and, with Karl Taube, "American Gladiators: Ritual Boxing in Ancient Mesoamerica" (in Blood and Beauty: Organized Violence in the Art and Archaeology of Mesoamerica and Central America, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press, 2009).


About the Peabody Museum

The Peabody Museum is among the oldest archaeological and ethnographic museums in the world with one of the finest collections of human cultural history found anywhere. It is home to superb materials from Africa, ancient Europe, North America, Mesoamerica, Oceania, and South America in particular. In addition to its archaeological and ethnographic holdings, the Museum’s photographic archives, one of the largest of its kind, hold more than 500,000 historical photographs, dating from the mid-nineteenth century to the present and chronicling anthropology, archaeology, and world culture.


Location: The Peabody Museum is located at 11 Divinity Avenue in Cambridge. The Museum is a short walk from the Harvard Square MBTA station.


Hours: 9 A.M. to 5 P.M., seven days a week. The Museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Admission is $9 for adults, $7 for students and seniors, $6 for children, 3–18. Free with Harvard ID or Museum membership. The Museum is free to Massachusetts residents Sundays, 9 A.M. to noon, year round, and Wednesdays from 3 P.M. to 5 P.M. (September to May). Admission includes admission to the Harvard Museum of Natural History. For more information call 617-496-1027 or go online to:

Media Contact: Faith Sutter, Communications Coord. Tel: (617) 495-3397



A fragment of Tortuguero Monument 6, the only Classic Maya record of the 2012 date. The monument is now on display in the Museo Carlos Pellicer, Villahermosa. Photograph by Marc Zender.

What: FREE Lecture and Reception

Speaker: Marc Zender, Research Associate, Peabody Museum
Where: Lecture in Geological Lecture Hall, Harvard University, 24 Oxford St., Cambridge. Reception follows in the Peabody Museum, 11 Divinity Ave.
When: Thursday,November 19, 2009, 5:30 P.M.
Contact: 617-496-1027 (Public Information) or