Mayan Calendar: Start of New Era or End of the World?

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PANAMA -- The beginning of a new Mayan era is being celebrated Friday in the Central American countries that were home to the ancient pre-Hispanic civilization. For some 3,000 years, the Mayan civilization inhabited the area now occupied by Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador and southern Mexico. But Friday's celebration is also marked by controversy over whether the date on the Mayan calendar represents the beginning of a new era or the dreaded apocalypse.

A Mayan era consisted of 13 cycles, each named B'aktun, and concluded every 5,125 years. According to the Mayan calendar, Dec. 21, 2012 is the end of the current era, which began in 3114 BC, and the beginning of a new era. 

Central American governments and Mayan organizations are organizing festivities to celebrate the date, including ancient rituals, seminars and culinary events. The celebrations will culminate at midnight on Friday with ceremonies at archaeological sites.

But the event has also been understood by some, erroneously, as the end of the world, a theory that has been rejected by descendants of the Mayan civilization, scientists and even the Catholic Church.

"The end of the period of the Fifth Sun (which will happen on Dec. 21, 2012) will usher in a new era, in which there will be positive changes in every respect for humanity," Mayan priests and spiritual guides in Guatemala have said.

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