Category: World / December 21, 2012 12:02 PM EST
Guatemala on Friday (December 21) celebrated the end of an age for the Maya and the start of a new one.
Fire and candles greeted the dawn as small crowds looked on at Tikal, one of the largest pre-Columbian Maya sites in Central America.
Shamans performed a ritual to greet the new era and see out the old one.
"We are beginning from zero and it is said that tomorrow is the start of Nagual, (the festival) water's energy and this new cycle that is going to start is a feminine energy and when we speak of a feminine energy we are talking about protection, an energy that will cultivate love because the sacred nagual is very important for us. What is happening now is very beautiful because new portals are being opened and we are witnesses for what is happening at this moment," said shaman, Tata Chus.
According to Mayan beliefs, an era closed in the Maya Long Count calendar at sunrise on Friday - an event that has been likened by different groups to the end of days or the start of a new, more spiritual age.
Thousands of tourists have descended on Mayan sites across Mexico and Central America to witness the new calendar ceremonies.
"For me it has been an honour to have been able to watch the ceremony because I was lucky to be present at the blessing of the materials on the 18th and to personally meet the spiritual guides. I am very grateful. I am very happy to be here and see the ceremony and especially in such a spectacular location like Tikal," said Spanish tourist, Raquel San Emeterio.
In the 1960s, a leading U.S. scholar said the end of the Maya's 13th bak'tun - an epoch lasting some 400 years - could signify an "Armageddon" - a theory debunked by experts.
Discovered in 1848 when locals unearthed human skulls whose teeth were studded with jade jewels, Tikal draws tourists from around the globe.
One American tourist said she was in Tikal out of sheer curiosity.
"We were just excited to come. We thought it would be a neat time to come. We didn't think that there was going to be an end-of-the-world scare. I think people certainly had some ideas about it. We think mostly that we wanted to see how other people saw the situation, how they were reacting to it. Clearly, a lot of people are here to see this. We were pretty sure that we were going to be okay," said Jessica (no surname given) from North Carolina in the United States.
Fears of mass suicides, huge power cuts, natural disasters, epidemics or an asteroid hurtling toward Earth have circulated on the Internet ahead of Dec. 21.
The Maya civilization reached its peak between A.D. 250 and 900 when it ruled over large swathes of what is now southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras.