Who’s Afraid of 2012?

Are you obsessed with the coming apocalypse? Do you cringe whenever someone mentions December 21, 2012? Are you one of the few people who has heard of the movie Melancholia?

Probably not – to the first two, at least; everyone should see Melancholia – since you’re still enrolled in school and therefore do not believe that these are the last of your days, because who would spend the last of their days in school? Still, it’s hard not to get caught up in the fantastic claims made by the overabundance of end-of-the-world movies that have come out in the past few years. At the root of these claims is that the Mayan calendar, scribed hundreds of years ago, comes to an end this December, followed by mass destruction all over the earth.

Fun fact: the Mayan calendar does not actually predict the apocalypse, nor does it stop in 2012. The Mayans used a system of time called Long Count with lengthy cycles – 25,000 years or so in each – to mark great events in their history, and to give points of references for their future. 2012 is significant, but not because tornadoes and floods will sweep out human life. It is simply the turning point of the 13th Bak’tun, and is actually cause for celebration among the Mayan people, much like our New Year’s Eve.

All of this I learned at the “Maya 2012: Lords of Time” exhibit, on display now at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. This multimedia, interactive walk-through debunks common myths about the ancient Mayans and their time-telling habits as well as informs about what the modern-day people are up to. Get up close and personal with some Mayan artifacts and replicas of thousand-year-old architecture. Or, check out a breakdown of other calendar systems and how they compare to our own Gregorian one. And at the end of the tour, show support for your belief team by dropping a piece of paper into either the “Yes the world will end in 2012” or “No the world will not end in 2012” bin. (Shockingly, the “No” bin was winning by an overwhelming majority.)

Overall, the exhibit forces the visitor to question themselves, “What do you think will happen in 2012? Where did the predictions of the 2012 apocalypse originate? Is it just a modern myth or an ancient prophecy?” Such self-aware media criticism should make you wonder about the origin of other beliefs you hold.

Student admission is $16.50. The museum is located at 3260 South Street at the intersection of Spruce and 33rd; for the easiest walking route, talk the Market-Frankford Line to 34th Street and head down 34th.

The exhibit will run until January 13, 2013. With any luck, we’ll still be around to see it then.

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