Phew! 2012 Doomsday Date May Be Wrong

Research shows Mayan calendar's doomsday date may be off by 50 to 100 years.

October 20, 2010, 10:51 AM

Oct. 20, 2010— -- Doomsday believers, you might be able to breathe a sigh of relief.

The much-hyped "prediction" that, according to the ancient Mayan calendar, the world will end on Dec. 21, 2012, may be based on a miscalculation.

According to recent research, the mythological date of the "end of days" may be off by 50 to 100 years.

To convert the ancient Mayan calendar to the Gregorian (or modern) calendar, scholars use a numerical value (called the GMT). But Gerardo Aldana, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, says the data supporting the widely-adopted conversion factor may be invalid.

In a chapter in the book "Calendars and Years II: Astronomy and Time in the Ancient and Medieval World," Aldana casts doubt on the accuracy of the Mayan calendar correlation, saying that the 2012 prophecy as well as other historical dates may be off.

"One of the principal complications is that there are really so few scholars who know the astronomy, the epigraphy and the archeology," Aldana said in a UCSB press release. "Because there are so few people who are working on that, you get people who don't see the full scope of the problem. And because they don't see the full scope, they buy things they otherwise wouldn't. It's a fun problem."

The GMT constant, named for early Mayan scholars Joseph Goodman, Juan Martinez-Hernandez and J. Eric S. Thompson, is partly based on astronomical events. Those early Mayanists relied heavily on dates found in colonial documents written in Mayan languages and recorded in the Latin alphabet, the release said.

A later scholar, American linguist and anthropologist Floyd Lounsbury, further supported the GMT constant.

But, through his research reconstructing Mayan astronomical practices and reviewing data in the archeological record, the release said Aldana found weaknesses in Lounsbury's work that cause the argument behind the GMT constant to fall "like a stack of cards."

"This may not seem to be much, but what it does is destabilize the entire argument," he said.

"A few scholars have stood up and said, 'No, the GMT is wrong,'" Aldana said. "But in my opinion, what they've done is try to provide alternatives without looking at why the GMT is wrong in the first place."

Apocalypse Now? Websites, Movies Promote End-of-Days Interest

Despite research undercutting the 2012 apocalypse hype, films, websites and books will likely continue to drive "end of days" mania to a fever pitch.

A crop of iPhone applications count down to (or capitalize on) the 2012 apocalypse, several websites boast countdown clocks and 2012 news, and, of course, there's been the march of movies cashing in on the interest in eschatology, or the study of the end of times.

Robert Thompson, professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University, said the interest has been escalating since the advent of the 21st century.

"When we got to the millennium, people tended to get exorcised to mark the end of time," he told

For some, the Y2K scare and then 9/11 provided proof that the end is near. The tsunami in the Indian Ocean and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, as well as the 2008 near-collapse of the world financial institutions only added more fuel to the fire.

But the Mayan predictions have held the most sway with believers.

At the height of that Mesoamerican civilization from 300 to 900 A.D., advanced mathematics and primitive astronomy flourished, creating what many have called the most accurate calendar in the world.

The Mayans predicted a final event that included a solar shift, a Venus transit and violent earthquakes.

ABC News' Susan Donaldson James contributed to this article.