Professor Discusses Apocalypse

Ryan Martin


Over two years ago, Russell Col­gate Distinguished University Pro­fessor of Astronomy, Anthropology and Native American Studies Tony Aveni published a book titled The End of Time: The Maya Mystery of 2012 as a response to growing fears from the public that there would be an apocalypse in 2012. Aveni has a wealth of experience in the study of Mesoamerican archaeoastronomy, and his research at Colgate over the last 50 or so years has made him one of the most important scholars in this field. He recently has been cited in The Dartmouth and on National Public Radio for his work and will lecture on the 2012 phenomenon at Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Mar­quette, The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, The New Orleans Mu­seum of Art, The Walters Museum of art in Baltimore, The Dresden Li­brary in Germany and the Rochester Museum of Science.

Aveni decided to write the book in an attempt to dispel some of the outrageous claims being made in other works by those whom he la­beled “Y12 prophets,” saying that the world would come to an end on December 21, 2012. Such claims were not grounded in academic re­search, but were made with intent to sell books to a God-fearing public and were simply complete misinter­pretations of the Mayan long-count calendar.

Nevertheless, Aveni thought that the phenomenon surrounding his main academic field of research was something worth being involved in, and he was intent on getting the truth out about it.

“It’s interesting to talk to people that quite fervently believe this is going to happen,” Aveni said. “The predictions are, if you Google the 3,264 books that have been written on this, that 3,261 of them, mine being one of three that are accepted [by the scholarly community], or 99.9 percent, believe that the world will come to a catastrophic end.”

Aveni does not doubt that rational thinkers at a school like Colgate will have the ability to discern fact from fic­tion, yet believes that there must clearly be a demographic living in fear of im­pending doom, otherwise there would not be such extensive literature on the subject. In his work related to the Ma­yan calendar, Aveni has attempted to make clear to the public that the Ma­yan people never said anything about the world ending on a specific date. While the calendar starts over or resets towards the end of 2012, he has not found any evidence to suggest that this will be accompanied by the rapture.

“I attribute a lot of [the phenom­enon] to fear in contemporary times, due to events like 9/11 and to reli­gion. We are wired for apocalypse: it started with the pilgrims, Columbus, you name it. The French and the people in the Czech Republic don’t seem to care too much about this; it’s mainly an American phenomenon,” Aveni said.

Because of this apparent tie between the Mayan calendar and the American obsession with apocalyptic theories, Aveni is doing work on another book that will look more closely at American apocalyptic religion. Even though this work is not really related to his main field of work in Mesoamerican ar­chaeoastronomy, he believes that it is a necessary follow up, and in his view the recent outbreak of 2012 fears has been heavily influenced by a longstanding apocalyptic psyche in the United States.

Although much of Professor Aveni’s work has been focused in Mayan astronomy throughout his long tenure as a professor at Col­gate, he was originally trained in Western science, and taught ex­tensively on the development of astronomy among the likes of the Greeks and other European cul­tures. However, he discovered his true passion for Mesoamerican archaeoastronomy while on a trip to Mexico with Colgate students during J-term (a now-defunct aca­demic option at Colgate in the 60s and 70s to fill the time between fall and spring semesters) many years ago, and since then has devoted much of his study to this area of the world. Towards the end of the 1960s, with the help of students and other professors in his depart­ment, Aveni was a major force in tying together the practice of as­tronomy in ancient Mesoamerican cultures with the study of building arrangements and orientations, an archaeological practice.

Contact Ryan Martin at [email protected]