The impending apocalypse may not be so close after all.
At least that's according to a German expert who says his decoding of a Mayan tablet with a reference to a 2012 date denotes a transition to a new era and not a possible end of the world as others have read it.
The interpretation of the hieroglyphs by Sven Gronemeyer of La Trobe University in Australia was presented for the first time Wednesday at the archaeological site of Palenque in southern Mexico.
His comments came less than a week after Mexico's archaeology institute acknowledged there was a second reference to the 2012 date in Mayan inscriptions, touching of another round of talk about whether it predicts the end of the world.
Gronemeyer has been studying the stone tablet found years ago at the archeological site of Tortuguero in Mexico's Gulf coast state of Tabasco.
He said the inscription describes the return of mysterious Mayan god Bolon Yokte at the end of a 13th period of 400 years, known as Baktuns, on the equivalent of Dec. 21, 2012. Mayans considered 13 a sacred number. There's nothing apocalyptic in the date, he said.
The text was carved about 1,300 years ago. The stone has cracked, which has made the end of the passage almost illegible.
Gronemeyer said the inscription refers to the end of a cycle of 5,125 years since the beginning of the Mayan Long Count calendar in 3113 B.C.
The fragment was a prophecy of then ruler Bahlam Ajaw, who wanted to plan the passage of the god, Gronemeyer said.
"For the elite of Tortuguero, it was clear they had to prepare the land for the return of the god and for Bahlam Ajaw to be the host of this initiation," he said.
Bolon Yokte, god of creation and war, was to prevail that day in a sanctuary of Tortuguero.
"The date acquired a symbolic value because it is seen as a reflection of the day of creation," Gronemeyer said. "It is the passage of a god and not necessarily a great leap for humanity."
Last week, Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology said a second inscription mentioning the 2012 date is on the carved or molded face of a brick found at the Comalcalco ruin, near the Tortuguero site. It is being kept at the institute and is not on display.
Many experts doubt the second inscription is a definite reference to the date cited as the possible end of the world, saying there is no future tense marking like there is in the Tortuguero tablet.
The institute has tried to dispel talk of a 2012 apocalypse, the subject of numerous postings and stories on the Internet. Its latest step was to arrange a special round table of Mayan experts this week at Palenque, which is where Gronemeyer made his comments.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.