Even if you're not up on ancient Mayan history, you've probably heard something about the 2012 apocalypse theory.
Some believe the Earth will experience a cataclysmic event this year as depicted in the blockbuster disaster film 2012.
So what's the deal with 2012? Why now?
The Maya, who lived 1,200 years ago, marked Dec. 21, 2012, as the end of their calendar.
"A lot of new age religions, astrologists and astronomers are looking for a correspondence between the ancient Maya calendar and the alignment of the planets," said Christian Wells, associate professor of anthropology at the University of South Florida.
The Maya were an American Indian civilization that occupied southern Mexico and upper central America. They were known as brilliant astronomers and mathematicians who measured the planets' movements with astounding accuracy, Wells said.
A Mayan artifact, a tablet known as "Monument 6," contains the famed date of Dec. 21, 2012. It's a slab of limestone with Mayan hieroglyphic inscriptions that archaeologists have interpreted. Experts agree that the date marks the end of the Mayan calendar.
Some today believe it is also prophetic of a significant global event — or an apocalypse.
Wells will discuss this idea Monday evening at USF in his lecture "The Ancient Maya Doomsday Prophecy: Helpful Tips for Surviving the End of the World."
"Some say we could see devastating comets, others have said we'll have increased solar flares," said Wells. "A lot of people do believe there'll be some sort of spiritual awakening."
As an expert on Mayan culture who has been on archaeological excavations in upper central America, Wells will explain the history and science behind their calendar and the theories surrounding its meaning.
From his studies, Wells concluded that the end of the calendar has nothing to do with the end of the world.
"The ancient Maya calendar is like an odometer on a new car: When it hits its maximum, it goes back to zero. A new cycle begins. They were really talking about natural cycles in their environment," he said. "Their narrative has been taken out of its cultural context."
Wells' lecture is part of USF's annual science fiction symposium. Co-sponsored by the USF Humanities Institute, School of Mass Communications and English department, this year's theme is Visions of the Apocalypse.
"An apocalypse is one of the handiest themes in science fiction. You can make it funny, tragic, heroic — it's a great trope," said Joe Haldeman, author of nearly 30 science fiction novels and short story collections.
His latest novel Earthbound deals with the catastrophic effects when aliens deprive Earth of electricity and all technology stops.
Haldeman and science fiction writer Nancy Kress, author of After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, will have a reading and book signing Tuesday as part of the USF series.
Haldeman says people are drawn to the idea of an apocalypse because it asks: "How do you prepare for the end of the world, spiritually and practically?"
"The attraction of that kind of prophecy and the power it holds on the human psyche," is a recurring theme in his books, he said. "You're dealing with earth changing events, but you're also dealing with normal human beings who have to get through the day."
Haldeman and Kress will also be part of a panel discussion Wednesday about these themes. The events are free and open to the public.
As for whether or not we'll have to get through another day come Dec. 22?
"Astrologically, the (Earth's) position in the Milky Way is pretty much the same as it was in the 1980s, and will stay in that position for at least another 20 years," Wells said.
"Ultimately, there's nothing to be worried about," he said. "Go ahead and buy those Christmas and Hanukkah gifts."
Elizabeth Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.