When a study released Tuesday revealed new clues to the Mayan collapse centuries ago, many people immediately thought of the "2012 apocalypse" some believe the Mayan calendar predicts. According to Smithsonian Magazine, many of the Mayan people slowly died off because of changed environmental conditions. Their own deforestation was a big factor, and the warning for modern man is easy to draw.
Researchers say the Mayan population declined because of severe reductions in rainfall and depletion of resources. A major factor in the Mayan collapse was the huge number of trees cut down to clear land for agriculture and to construct elaborate buildings.
"Because cleared land absorbs less solar radiation, less water evaporates from its surface, making clouds and rainfall more scarce," Joseph Stromberg wrote in the Smithsonian. "As a result, the rapid deforestation exacerbated an already severe drought. ...The lack of forest cover also contributed to erosion and soil depletion."
Eventually the Maya had to abandon their magnificent stone cities and revert to a simpler life or else face starvation. Without benefit of modern climate science, it may not be a shock that they were fatally incorrect about the future. Still, the idea that they predicted the end of the world has been enough to scare countless people into formulating their own conspiracies about what will happen on Dec. 21, 2012, the supposed end date of the world as we know it, according to ABC News.
Since the Maya failed to heed weather patterns, one could question the ancient people's credibility on a seismic event like an apocalypse so far in the future from their own time. But experts agree an end-date of 12/21/12 was never actually predicted by the Maya.
ABC News reported that the doomsday clock idea arose when a tablet was found in the 1960s that outlined a Mayan god's return to earth "At the end of a 13th period."
"The Maya are viewed by many Westerners as exotic folks that were supposed to have had some special, secret knowledge," scholar Sven Gronemeyer told ABC. "Human beings seem to be attracted by apocalyptic ideas and always assume the worst."
National Geographic debunked the end of the world myth by noting that Dec. 21, 2012, is just the end of a "Long Count calendar." Instead the sun crashing into the ocean and the four horseman descending on earth, Dec. 22 will be more similar to what we know as New Year's Day.