Saturday, 19 May 2012

News & Vocabulary: Mayan says December 2012 NOT the End of the World

The Washington Post has the following news reporting National Geographic's findings:

Tyrone Turner/National Geographic
Four long numbers on the north wall of a ruined house related to the Mayan
calendar and computations about the moon, sun and possibly Venus and Mars;
the dates stretch some 7,000 years into the future.

By Brian Vastag / The Washington Post
The ancient Mayans were masters of time, keepers of good calendars. And now, we have one of their timekeepers' workrooms to prove it.

In a striking find, archaeologists in Guatemala report the discovery of a small building whose walls display not only a stunningly preserved mural of a brightly adorned Mayan king, but also calendars that destroy any notion of the Mayans predicting the end of the world in 2012.

These deep-time calendars can be used to count thousands of years into the past and future, countering pop-culture and New Age ideas that Mayan calendars ended on Dec. 21, 2012, (or Dec. 23, depending on who's counting), thus predicting the world's end.

The newly found calendars, which track the motion of the moon, Venus and Mars, provide an unprecedented glimpse into how these storied sky-gazers -- who dominated Central America for nearly 1,000 years -- kept such accurate track of months, seasons and years.

"What they're trying to do is understand the large cycles of cosmic time," said Boston University archaeologist William Saturno, who led the expedition. "This is the space they're doing it in. It's like looking into Da Vinci's workshop."

Before the new find, the best-preserved Mayan calendars were inscribed in bark-paged books called codices, the most famous being the Dresden Codex. But those pages hail from several hundred years later than the newly found calendars.

Mr. Saturno said researchers have long assumed that the Mayans had worked out the cycles of the moons and planets much earlier, but no evidence of such work had ever been found.

But in 2010, undergraduate student Max Chamberlain, working with Mr. Saturno, stumbled onto the house as the team began a huge job -- starting excavations at a Mayan city, Xultun, which, despite being known since 1915, had never been professionally excavated. Instead, over the decades, looters had dug deep trenches to access buildings.

One day at lunch, Mr. Chamberlain announced his intention to find paintings by crawling through the trenches. Mr. Saturno scoffed. The buildings were too shallow -- any paint on their walls would surely be long gone, erased by water, dirt, insects and encroaching tree roots.

But sure enough, Mr. Chamberlain stumbled onto a wall, open to a trench, showing two red lines. A quick excavation revealed the back wall of the building -- replete with a mural of a resplendent Mayan king, in bright blue, adorned with feathers and jewelry.

Mr. Saturno's team brushed off the wall and, "Ta-da!" he said. "A Technicolor, fantastically preserved mural. I don't know how it survived."

Mr. Saturno immediately emailed contacts at the National Geographic Society, which agreed to fund a full excavation of the building. The discovery is detailed in this week's Science magazine and in the June issue of National Geographic.

The mural is the first Mayan painting found in a small building instead of a large public space. And it's also the oldest known preserved Mayan painting.

Next to the king, a scribe -- perhaps the worker who scribbled the calendars on the wall -- holds a writing instrument. Three mysterious figures wearing black also march across the wall. One of them is named "older brother obsidian." Mayan experts have no idea whom these mysterious figures might represent.

Once the team uncovered several columns of red and black dots and dashes -- the Mayans' numbering system -- the meaning of these figures was almost immediately evident to David Stuart, a University of Texas art history professor, and one of the world's foremost experts in Mayan hieroglyphics. It was a lunar table, showing a 4,784-day cycle of the moon's phases.

The table is broken into 27 columns, each representing six lunar months. Each column is topped by the face of one of three moon gods -- a jaguar, a skull and a woman. These repeat. So by consulting the table, a priest could tell which moon god would preside over a particular date. Want to know whether the king's birthday falls under a jaguar moon 10 years hence? A hundred? A thousand? Just check the table.

"It's really cool because it shows us the tools the ancient astronomers and priests were using to do their calculations," Mr. Stuart said.

On another wall sits a smaller set of four columns of figures. Eventually, the all-star Mayan scholar team assembled by Mr. Saturno figured it out: This second table was filled with huge numbers relating to how long it takes Mars and Venus to cross the sky and come back again. This calendar spans some 7,000 years -- heading much farther into the future than the supposed doomsday date.

"Like a lot of ancient cultures, they were able with naked-eye astronomy to calculate the paths of the planets," said Mr. Stuart. "We tend to forget that, before telescopes, people were able to analyze the movement of planets in a lot of detail -- and figure out exactly, to the day, the length of a Venus year and a Mars year."

Tulane University's Marc Zender, a Mayan expert not involved in the work, said, "It's about as exciting as discovering lost manuscripts of a famous mathematician like Archimedes. It's an amazing, privileged glimpse over their shoulders."

With the virtually unexplored city of Xultun containing hundreds of buildings stretching across at least 16 square miles of jungle, Mr. Saturno guesses that plenty of other surprises await excavation. "It might take another two decades," he said.

He expects the world to still exist then, and said he'd bet anyone a million dollars it will. The Mayan calendar does start a new "long cycle" later this year, but he equated that with a car's odometer rolling over from 99,999 miles to zero: "You go, 'Yay,' but the car just doesn't disappear."

First Published May 11, 2012 12:00 am

Basically, that means, sorry, it is not the end of the world, you don't have to sell all your properties and go into crazy spending, and yes, if you have read this entry, you can still pretend that the end of the world is near and make a fortune out of others who still believe so.

Read more to learn more vocabulary!! I'm a bit busy this week, hope next week I can write more!

Have a nice weekend!!!!

striking -- (adj) very unusual or easily noticed, and therefore attracting a lot of attention
archaeologist -- noun (mainly US archeologist) [C] someone who studies the buildings, graves, tools and other objects of people who lived in the past

notion -- (n)  [C or U(a) belief or idea
unprecedented -- (adj) never having happened or existed in the past
glimpse -- (vb) [T] to see something or someone for a very short time or only partly
gazer -- (n) [C] from gaze -- [I usually + adverb or prepositionto look at something or someone for a long time, especially in surprise, admiration or because you are thinking about something else
cosmic -- (adj) relating to the universe and the natural processes that happen in it
stumble across/on/upon sth/sb -- phrasal verb to discover something by chance, or to meet someone by chance
excavation -- (n)  [C or Uremoval of earth that is covering very old objects buried in the ground in order to discover things about the past
encroach on/upon sth -- to gradually cover more and more of an area of land
mural -- (n) [C] a large picture that has been painted on the wall of a room or building
scribble -- (vb)[I]  to write or draw something quickly or carelessly
obsidian -- (n) [U] a type of almost black rock that is like glass
astronomer -- (n)[C] someone who studies astronomy
the naked-eye -- If something can be seen with the naked eye, it can be seen without the help of an instrument
manuscript -- (n)[C] an old document or book written by hand in the times before printing was invented
virtually -- (adv) almost

Discovery in Guatemala shows that Mayan calendar goes on @

Living: Master So VS Mayans' Doomsday Prediction @ Locky's English Playground