Smart people often can't see the forest for the trees, which may be exactly what happened to the Mayans. A civilization of really smart cookies living in what is now called Central America, the Mayans are connected with the Doomsday predictions that say the world is going to end on December 21, 2012.
If the Mayans were so smart, though, how come they can tell us when we are going to bite the dust, but they didn't see their own demise coming a mile off?
A civilization of bean counters?
Until their civilization collapsed during the 8th and 9th Centuries, the Mayans were known for developing a complex hieroglyphics system and accurate ways to measure time. Their "Long Count" calendar is what has everyone in such an uproar. The calendar shows the current "cycle" ending on December 21. This has led to speculation that when the days run out, that's the end of us.
Still, for such an advanced civilization, they sound like a bunch of bean counters. The Mayans are known for adding the zero to their numbering system, which has been a boon to both accountants and movie directors looking to bolster a budget. Their hieroglyphics also have been described as incredibly complex, like they didn't want any outsiders double-checking their ledgers.
Looking for the Lorax
Live Science has an interesting article about the Mayans and deforestation. While creating these nifty calendars and neat ways of writing, these geniuses didn't notice that their trees were getting kind of sparse. This led to a chain reaction in which the lack of forests caused a significant decrease in rainfall.
The subsequent drought contributed to the demise of the farming economy. No rain and dwindling food supplies led to obvious conflicts amongst the Mayans. Evidently, some people did think it better to make love, not war. Live Science also points to overpopulation as a contributing factor for the downfall of Mayan civilization.
Sounds like a certain Central American population needed a visit from Dr. Seuss's "Lorax."
Was the Long Count Calendar a warning?
It is ironic that a civilization supposedly visited by aliens could have been done in by deforestation. You can commune with visitors from other planets, but you can't take the time to plant a couple of trees now and then?
Perhaps the Long Count Calendar was indeed a warning to those of us in the 21st Century, one that we haven't been smart enough to fully grasp. Their calendar may have been the last gift of a civilization that was too short-sighted to see their own end coming like a freight train.