Is the end of the world really nigh?

Helsinki residents and visitors can now learn about Mayan mythology as well as the everyday life of the Maya, including ancient food recipes.

Spoiler alert! The world will not end on 21 December 2012 as predicted by the Mayan calendar, which has inspired not only Mel Gibson, but also a range of occultists and people with a penchant for mystical thinking.

No, Armageddon is not coming, although a Mayan monument in Tortuguero, Mexico, specifies 21 December 2012 as the end date of an important era, and a tablet with a similar inscription was unearthed last spring at the Mayan ruins of La Corona.

“That’s the date when thirteen approximately 400-year cycles, or Baktuns, have elapsed from the Mayans’ mythic moment of creation,” explains researcher Harri Kettunen from the Department of World Cultures.

For the Maya, this year’s winter solstice would also mark a kind of return to the beginning because they would notate the date as

“For them this would be a celebration comparable to the turn of the millennium for us,” Kettunen says.

However, the Mayan mythology also describes later eras.

“If everything started from the beginning after the 13th Baktun, the scribes would hardly have referred to the 17th Baktun,” Kettunen notes.

Interpreting the topic is further complicated by the Europeans’ devastation of America in the 16th century. Few hieroglyphs remain, mostly those that were carved in stone, as the conquerors burned the Mayan books.

Much of what we know about indigenous American culture is being showcased in Helsinki this December.

Kettunen is the chief organiser of a conference held between 9 and 15 December on the ancient Maya culture and the methods for exploring it. Organised by Kettunen’s department and the European Association of Mayanists, the conference is the largest event of its kind in the world.

The conference and its workshops are geared to all those interested in the Maya, regardless of age or profession. The Mayan civilisation will also be explored in the Didrichsen Art Museum’s exhibition, which will be open to the public until April 2013. What is more, the Museum will celebrate the Maya “end date” on 21 December with Professor Kettunen and top international scholars. A special issue of the Yliopisto magazine focusing on the end of the world and featuring articles on the Maya will also be published on 21 December.

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Text: Kirsi Cheas & Virve Pohjanpalo
Photo: Harri Kettunen
Translation: Language Services/Language Centre (University of Helsinki)
University of Helsinki, digital communications

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