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Maya Forum debunks doomsday, promotes tourism

Some 400 people participated in the Maya Forum that was held by the Central America Trade Office to shed light on the ancient Mayan civilization and attract visitors to Central America, in Taipei, yesterday.

Four experts from Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras shared their insights on topics including the similarity between ancient Chinese and Mayan cultures, Mayan astronomy, its calendar and ruins, as well as the so-called “2012 Doomsday” prediction that has been so widely talked about in recent years.

Miriam Lourdes Mendez Arevalo, an archaeologist from El Salvador's Secretariat of Culture, told The China Post that the myth of a Mayan prophecy — that Dec. 21, 2012 will be the end of the world — is unfounded.

The day only marked the end of a cycle in Maya Calendar but it is not the end of things, just like nightfall does not lead to the end of times but to the beginning of a new dawn, she said. After Dec. 21, 2012, the world will simply enter the 13th Baktun in the Maya Calendar. A baktun is a cycle that equates to around 394 years.

In fact, the end of the 12 Baktun is such a nonevent that people sharing Maya culture in El Salvador will probably not celebrate it specifically as the Maya Calendar is not generally observed by the locals, she said.

A lot of Maya culture and heritage, on the other hand, survives in modern El Salvador, she pointed out. Some of the nation's archaeological parks, such as Joya de Ceren, include ancient buildings that still house contemporary Salvadoran people. In fact, some of these buildings are so constantly used that experts did not first suspect them to be ancient relics.

Maya culture shares a lot in common with Chinese culture, said Jaime Awe, director of the Institute of Archaeology at the National Institute of Culture and History in Belize. Scholars now believe that the ancestors of the Maya people migrated to the Americas via the Bering Strait, Awe pointed out. The Chinese and Maya culture share beliefs in color symbolisms, the use of hieroglyphs, ancestor worship, and a high regard for jade as a precious material. The Maya's respect for jaguars is also similar to the Chinese veneration of animals such as tigers.

While he came mainly for the Maya Forum, Awe said he also sees his visit to Taiwan as a chance to understand how a culture so similar to Maya culture can survive in the modern world. While the Maya culture made a lot of extraordinary achievements in terms of astronomy, mathematics and writing, among other things, it collapsed in part because it became “a victim of its own success,” Awe said.

The huge demand of resources needed to build the great Maya architecture and support the culture resulted in overexploitation. The ancient Maya people's failure to technologically advance fast enough to cope with the surging demand finally led to the decline of the culture. There is a lesson to be learned for people in the modern world, he added.

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From left, archaeologist Jaime Awe from Belize, U.S. archaeologist Richard Hansen working in Guatemala, Guatemalan Ambassador Arturo Duarte from Honduras pose for photos at the Maya Forum in Taipei, yesterday. (Courtesy of the Central America Trade Office)

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