Impossible. Not with the iconic images we currently hold of this long vanished civilisation. Images of ancient crumbling stone cities with their massive step pyramids; brutal human sacrifices made to strange feathered dragon gods; and men peering at the night sky from their observatory, making detailed (and impeccible) records of the movements of the constellations. But while these give colour and life to a world long gone, none of these visuals are needed. Simply mention the words Mayan Civilisation to anyone and without a moment's hesitation most will think of a particularly complex calendar that happens to have an inconvenient end date in the not too distant future.
But climate scientists? Not a chance.
Strangely enough, there might be a chance, quite a small one at that, but perhaps they knew more than what we give them credit for. At the end of their calendar the Mayans tell of what will happen to the earth when their calendar ends, interestingly they don't write about the things most expect will happen. Instead it is rather a simple thing, the images at the end of their 'book' shows water falling down relentlessly, building in intensity until there is a deluge of water that washes all human habitation away. But first, they claim, there is rain...a lot of rain.
It's strange that this simple prediction isn't more commonly known, rather it seems folks believe that the Mayans predicted everything activating at the same time - volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, an ice age, the magnetosphere collapsing, meteors hitting, a pole shift, and for those who like to make modern interpretations - an alien invasion while we are at it. But the Mayans were much less creative than us, they simply speak of rain.
A few days ago, after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off the coast of Japan, a 10m tsunami breached the sea walls of Japan's northern coast and devastated large sections of the country in a matter of minutes. Between the earthquake and the tsunami, a chain of events were triggered that ultimately caused the meltdown of several reactors at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. The impact to humans, animals, and the environment from these combined disasters are impossible to over estimate.
It is difficult to understand exactly what the Mayans expected the final deluge to be caused by, although there are current theories that the continued warming of the planet could cause a tipping point where large sheets of ice break off at the poles and fall into the ocean which carry a tsunami risk. At a much smaller scale, a devastating event such as this actually happened in Peru in 2010.
What is interesting is that the Mayans seemed to have been aware of a massive climate event that occurred around 3,300 BCE, roughly 1300 years before the Mayan civilisation began. This climate event was a sudden cooling of the planet where at high altitudes such as Peru's Quelccaya ice cap plants were literally "flash frozen" during the abrupt cooling, evidence of this claim can be found here.
What we don't know is what happened before this abrupt cooling, but perhaps the rain the Mayans speak of is the key. There is no way to know decisively how the Mayans calculated the date of Dec 21, 2012 as the end of the Mayan Calendar, given that they had to choose an arbitrary 'start' date. Perhaps there was an oral tradition that was carried through the ages by the survivors of this abrupt climate event that was felt simultaneously all over the world. Perhaps with astronomical calculations, the Mayans saw in the heavens a pattern that matched the events of the past that would repeat again over and over in the future, with thousands of years passing between. Perhaps. We will never know.
But if we simply look at the last page of the Mayan 'book', they tell us at the end it will rain and it won't stop. Even though the men who wrote the 'book' are long dead, the world's climate is certainly changing, and record amounts of precipitation are being noted all over the world. The planet is warming up, it is getting wetter, and the glaciers are melting away. Although it seems to go against the scientific premise of this blog, it is not impossible that the Mayans were trying to predict the next climate change in order to prepare for it, and we have merely inherited their research. It is possible that the Mayans were climate scientists after all, but only time will tell.
Originally published on Paradigms Bend March 15 2011