As time was of the essence (pun intended), I immediately forwarded Braswell the link with thanks for his excellent explanation of how the Mayans counted time.
In this case, professional courtesy proved even more helpful than usual.
In a matter of minutes, Braswell replied, taking issue with the photograph that illustrated my story (but which does so no more).
“Many people are showing some version or other of this image,” Braswell wrote, adding, “It isn't Maya at all but is Aztec. Also, it's not a calendar. Instead, it depicts the birth of the current sun at the fifth creation.”
Indeed, a search for “Mayan calendar” in Google Images returns a multitude of the incorrect Oreo-shaped medallions.
As another brilliant scientist, NASA astrophysicist David Morrison, told RFE/RL, “Many people are under the impression that they can trust everything posted on the Internet.”
Well, they shouldn’t, of course. But until that happens, hear this: No, the Mayans did not predict that the world would end on December 21, 2012. And, no, that is not a Mayan calendar.
Thanks, Professor Braswell.
-- Eugen Tomiuc