Monday, December 08, 2008

The Mayan Calendar
The following is a brief overview of the Mayan calendar system. The Mayans had one of the most accurate systems of time keeping ever devised before this century. In fact it was more accurate than the Gregorian calendar we use today. The following are Mayan names for time periods.
Kin = 1 day
Uinal = month (20 days)
Tun = 360 days (18 Uinals)
Haab = year (365 days)
Katun = 7,200 days (20 Tuns)
Baktun = 144,000 days (20 Katuns)
Pictun = 2,880,000 days (20 Baktuns)
Calabtun = 57,600,000 days (20 Pictuns)
Kinchiltun = 1,152,000,000 days (20 Calabtuns)
Alautun = 23,040,000,000 days (20 Kinchiltuns)

Here are the Mayan time periods in their Glyphic form:

The Haab or regular year was divided into 18 months of 20 days plus an unlucky month of 5 days, called Uayeb at the end.

The months are as follows:

Uayeb (only 5 days)

Here are the Mayan Month signs in Glyphic form:

A Tun was 18 months long and equaled 360 days. Each date was identified by its name and number so for example 11-Xul was the eleventh of the month of Xul.

The Maya also had a sacred year called the Tzolkin, or sacred round, of 260 days. This "year" consisted of thirteen numbers, (1-13) combining consecutively with 20 day names. Virtually all the peoples of Mesoamerica used this system. This calendar has no relation to the solar year or to the lunar year and its origin is unknown. Each date would have a separate name and number in this calendar. The days are as follows:


Here are the Mayan day signs in Glyphic form:

For example, the date 5 Caban would be followed by 6 Eznab. By the end of 260 days each one of the 20 day signs would have gone through all the numbers from 1 to 13 and the cycle would start again.

Mayan dates were frequently given has a combination of the Haab date and the Tzolkin date. For example, 3 Ahau 5 Yax. The day is 3 Ahau in the sacred calendar and the 5th day of the month of Yax. A combination of the same two calendar names for the same day can only occur once every 18,980 days or every 52 years. This is called the Calendar round. Just mentioning the full name of a date would place it precisely within that 52 year period.

A further refinement was the Short Count, which was a list of 13 Katun’s for a total of 256 years. By including a Katun date with a calendar it would be possible to be precise within a 256 year period. Each Katun was numbered 1 to 13 and called Ahau for example Katun 8 Ahau started a little more than 138 years after the beginning of the short count, or 50,400 days after the short count started. Usually short count dates only listed the Katun number and the year ending. This method came into frequent use only after the Mayan collapse of the 9th century.

The Maya dated events during the classic period in terms, not of years but of number of days since a fixed date. This is called the Long Count. Thus the dates in Maya inscriptions of the Classic period are not in years but the total number of days since August 13, 3114 B.C.E.. It is believed that the date above represents the creation of the present world in the myths of the Maya. Since the Maya calculated dates long before this date it doesn’t seem to represent the original creation of the World. Thus dates would be represented by a long list of numbers which would precisely date an event since August 13, 3114 B.C.E.. This system of dating did not survive the end of the Classic period.

Archaeologists usually write long count dates in the following manner 9. 14. 7. 11. 19, which means 9 Baktuns + 14 Katuns + 7 Tuns + 11 Uninals + 19 Kins. Which works out has 1,296,000 days + 100,800 days + 2520 days + 220 days + 19 days, or 1,399,549 days since August 13, 3114 B.C.E.. This works out to the date July 5, 520 C.E.

The Maya frequently employed multiple systems of dating and even dated events to within a few hours. They divided up the Night into Nine Lords of the Night and dated events that occurred within each part of the night ruled by a particular Lord. The Maya also had worked out the orbits of various planets for example Venus into Cycles. Mayan astronomers worked out that from Earth Venus has an apparent orbit of 584 days., (this is less than a ¼ of a day off). The Maya had a cyclical view of time thinking that events tended to repeat themselves and constantly looking for favourable cycles and anniversaries.

The Maya 6th Edition, by Michael D. Coe, Thames and Hudson, London, 1998.
World of the Maya, by Victor W. Von Hagen, Mentor Books, New York, 1960.
Maya Cosmos, by Linda Schele & David Freidel & Joy Parker, William Morrow Company Inc., New York, 1993.
The Code of Kings, by Linda Schele & Peter Mathews, Touchstone Books, New York, 1998.
The Blood of Kings, by Linda Schele & Mary Ellen Miller, George Braziller Inc., 1986.

Pierre Cloutier

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