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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 ("2012," released in November 2009).

The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology presented a free lecture, “Much Ado about Nothing: 2012 and the Maya,” on November 19, 2009 at Harvard’s Geological Lecture Hall.  “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 enlists 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).




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