Don't ask Apolinario Chile Pixtun if the end of the world is coming in 2012. The Maya Indian elder, shown in Guatemala in October 2009, is "fed up with this stuff," he told the Associated Press.
Some archaeologists would agree. The Maya calendar, they say, doesn't end in 2012, as some have said, and the ancients never viewed that year as the time of the end of the world.
But December 21, 2012, (give or take a day) was nonetheless momentous to the Maya.
"It's the time when the largest grand cycle in the Mayan calendar—1,872,000 days or 5,125.37 years—overturns and a new cycle begins," said Anthony Aveni, an archaeoastronomer at Colgate University.
During the empire's heyday, the Maya invented the Long Count—a lengthy circular calendar that "transplanted the roots of Maya culture all the way back to creation itself," Aveni said.
During the 2012 winter solstice, time runs out on the current era of the Long Count calendar, which began on what the Maya saw as the dawn of the last creation period: August 11, 3114 B.C. The Maya called that date, which preceded their civilization by thousands of years, Day Zero, or 18.104.22.168.0.
In December 2012 the lengthy era ends, and the complicated, cyclical calendar will roll over again to Day Zero, beginning another enormous cycle.
"The idea is that time gets renewed, that the world gets renewed all over again-often after a period of stress-the same way we renew time on New Year's Day or even on Monday morning," said Aveni, author of The End of Time: The Maya Mystery of 2012.
(See pictures of what the Maya Empire may have looked like.)