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30 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 05 January 2012

The ancient Mayans had two calendars; the solar calendar of the agricultural year and a lunar calendar on which they based their religious festivals. The two don't coincide very often. The longest cycle they considered lasts 5 125 years and completes a cycle on 21st December 2012 at the midwinter solstice. That has given rise to predictions that this is when the world will end - something not stated in the Mayan texts. It was also the basis for the Hollywood epic "2012" with earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and all the special effects of modern film making.

So how might the world actually end? Could geological or cosmic catastrophe take place this year, and if not, how do we know? But this is not just about geology and astronomy. It's also about human psychology. Why do predictions of an apocalypse continue? What drives those who invent them, and their followers who sometimes have such strong beliefs that they commit mass suicide?

And will the world end eventually, and if so, how and when? Quentin Cooper investigates the end of the world with the help of astronomers, psychologists and anthropologists.

Producer: Martin Redfern.

  • The End of The World

    The End of The World

    Picture: A Mayan Calendar stone

  • Liz Graham

    Professor of Mesoamerican archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London.

    Liz Graham, UCL
  • Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell

    Astronomer and visiting professor at Oxford University. Former president of the British Science Association and the Institute of Physics and Royal Society Faraday prizewinner.

    Prof Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Oxford University
  • Charles B (Chuck) Strozier

    Professor of history and founding director of the centre on terrorism at city University of New York. Author of Apocalypse: on the Psychology of Fundamentalism in America.

    Charles B. Strozier, John Jay College
  • Dr Suzanne Newcombe

    A sociologist at the charity Inform, based at the London School of Economics.

  • Apocalyptic patterns of thought: 2012 and other prophecies

    The programme is based on a conference organised by the Scientific and Medical Network.

    Full details and recordings of the presentations


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