Move over Dan Brown.
Lisa Westwood, who teaches in the anthropology departments at both Chico State University and Butte College, has produced her own symbol-filled page-turner in "The Last Baktun" ($19.95 in paperback from lulu.com). Westwood is also a working archeologist and uses her knowledge of the profession in crafting an answer to her students' question: "But what if it's true?"
The "it" is the supposed end of the world predicted by ancient Mayan inscriptions. The thirteenth baktun (a period of 394 solar years) may end on December 23, 2012, though links Westwood presents on her Web site (http://www.lisawestwood.com) show that scholars find calendar calculations and interpretation far from simple. Some of that is shown in the words of the novel's Alastair Haddleton, a retired expert on the Maya, as he speaks to the CIA:
"Some people have interpreted the end of this baktun as Armageddon. . . . Some say the end of this baktun and the start of a new creation--a new baktun--will be marked by a change of consciousness among humans. . . . Others say that the changing of the baktun will pass without incident."
Further, what will happen depends on whether a Mayan "day keeper" (the Ah K'in) can perform the appropriate ritual. Legend has it that the Ah K'in will receive great power from the gods to decide the fate of humanity. Thus the interest of the CIA--and terrorists.
But that's mere background. Westwood's novel is really about a group of nine college students who are working in Mexico as part of an archeological study program through "Sierra State" in Chico. It is 2012. Guided by Professor Alexandra (Alex) Förstemann, the group is digging at Chichén Itzá and finds not only glyphs and artifacts but much more than they bargained for. The suspense builds as it becomes clear that Alex is hiding something, and the team of Dylan, Jenna and Jake discover that weather catastrophes worldwide are not the result of global warming but the gods themselves waiting for the Ah K'in to restart the calendar. The clock is running out; the trio must unlock the mysteries and save the world.
Suitable for young adults and above, "The Last Baktun" is a gripping "what if" tale.