In the year 2012, a particular strain of doomsday predicting (and preparing) swept the world. Aptly named the "Mayan Doomsday," experts and amateurs the world over were debating whether the Maya predicted the end of the world on December 21st.
One might guess at the causes of such a craze. Perhaps a longstanding religious myth or legend, well-documented by archeologists? Perhaps a famed speech or book delivered by a Mayan version of Nostradamus?
But no, it was all actually due to just one pillar. A pillar into which, for whatever reason, someone from the ancient city of Tortuguero decided to carve a calendar. No where else are any predictions about a doomsday or "end times" found in Mayan literature, and certainly nothing so specific as to give a date.
And that specificity is largely what captured the imaginations of so many. The carver illustrated thousands of years worth of calendar days, then stopped, abruptly, on a seemingly random date: December 21st, 2012. And what's more, there is in fact a prophecy alongside it. The text specifically states that this date is the end of the 13th "b’ahktun," or cycle in the calendar, after which there will be nothing more.
The prophecy translates ominously (and roughly) into the following:
"It will happen
He will descend"
This cryptic phrase, cobbled together with the other information archaeologists have gathered about the Mayan calendar and their notions of how the world might end, gives a fairly clear impression: whoever carved this pillar was predicting calamity on this date.
Of course, that is but one teeny, tiny part of the story. There are hundreds of pages of other Mayan texts that say nothing of the sort. But of course this one is what people have latched onto.
The pillar is so intriguing to people, it now resides in the Carlos Pellicer Museum, which is probably a good thing. The original ruins of Tortuguero, where the pillar was found, have largely been destroyed, and in fact a large cement processing plant now sits on the original site.