Calendopaedia - Mayan Calenders
There were two Mayan Calendars which later influenced the
Aztec Calendars. One had 260 days and was a sacred
calendar used for worship. The other one consisted of 365 days
and was a seasonal calendar used for farming and normal daily life.
Another chronological measure used by the Mayans, but not the Aztecs, was
the Long Count. This was a count of the number of days since they believed
that the world had begun.
The Mayan Numbering System
Before looking at the calendars it will be helpful to understand a little
of the Mayan numbering system. They used a vigesimal numbering system, that
is one to the base of 20. They had the concept of zero long before it was
understood in Europe. They only had two other symbols. Zero was represented
by a shell, one by a dot and five by a bar. The symbols were placed together
to make an icon, for example 13 (decimal) was represented by two bars with
three dots over to make a single icon. A positional system, similar to ours,
was used with an icon representing 0 - 19 in the right most position, then
one representing (1x20) - (19x20) to the left of it.
As 20 x 20 = 400 which is more than the number of days in a solar year the
numbering system was modified for the calender such that the second icon had
a radix of 18 instead of 20. The remaining icons had a radix of 20.
The Tzolkin - The Mayan Sacred Calendar
The sacred year is made up of four quarters each of 65 days. Each quarter
is then sub-divided into five groups of 13 days.
Each day has both a number and a symbol and both are needed to define the
date. The numbers run from 1 to 13 and there are 20 different symbols.
Day one is defined by number 1 and symbol 1. Day two is defined by
number 2 and symbol 2. This continues until day 13 which is defined by
number 13 and symbol 13. Day 14 is defined by number 1 and symbol 14, day
15 by number 2 and symbol 15. Day 20 is defined by number 7 and symbol 20.
Day 21 by number 8 and symbol 1. As 13 is not a factor of 20 the same pair
do not re-occur for 260 days and then a new sacred year starts.
The Haab - The Mayan Seasonal Calendar
The year was made up of 18 months of 20 days each with five additional
days to bring the total to 365.
This calendar defines a year of 18 months, each of 20 days, and five extra
days, 365 days in total. These extra days were considered unlucky and so
very little was done on them. Each year had a name and number combination
as did the days in the The Tzolkin but this time there were only 52
such combinations before repeating. This series was known as a 'bundle' or
a 'Calendar Round'.
The Mayan Year Cycles
The two calendars of 260 days and 365 days run simultaneously and after a
period of 52 years they will once more start on the same day. This is one of
many cycles which the Mayans kept track of. They were great astronomers and
recorded the sun-spot cycle (11.3 years) and various planetary cycles. The
longest cycle they discovered was the orbit of our solar system around
Pleiades, a cycle of 26,000 years.
The Maya Long Count
It was usual to quote dates by giving them in both calendars. This meant that each
combination would only be unique for the period of a Calendar Round. To
record dates for longer periods the Long Count was used.
This is a count of the number of days since they believed that the world
had begun. This has been calculated to be 12 August 3113 BC by the Gregorian
The long count is normally written in two parts, the first being the count
of days and the second being the current date according to both calendars.
The days are counted using the following system :-
1 day = 1 kin
20 kins = 1 Uinal (20 days)
18 Uinals = 1 Tun (360 days)
20 Tuns = 1 Katun (7200 days)
20 Katuns = 1 Baktun (144,000 days)
The number is written as 5 groups of digits like this -
Baktuns . Katuns . Tuns . Uinals . kins
Most of the recorded dates which have been found begin with '9' which means
between (9 x 144000) days and (10 x 144000) days since the start of the
long count which would equate to 436 AD to 829 AD. It is thought that when
the long count reaches 220.127.116.11.0 it is reset to 0.0.0.0.0 thus giving a
period of 5125.37 years. This brings us to 22 Dec 2012 AD when either time
ends or we start a new Maya Era. By combining the long count and the
Tzolkiun and Haab dates it is possible to quote a date which will be unique
for a period of 374,152 years, or 73 Maya Eras. So perhaps we will be safe
after 2012 AD after all.
Examples of dates using the Maya Long Count
Long Count Calendar Round
Gregorian Txolkiun Haab
=========== ============== =========== ======
14 Nov 1539 - 11.16. 0. 0. 0 13 Ahau 8 Xul
14 Aug 1995 - 12.19. 2. 7. 0 8 Ahau 8 Uo
14 Feb 1996 - 12.19. 2.16. 5 11 Chikehan 13 Pax
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