Calendarsystems of the Ancient Maya

The Tzolkin Calendar

The oldest and most important calendar was the ritual calendar of 260 days which today is known as the Tzolkin calendar. This word comes from the words tzol (to arrange) and kin (day). It is not sure when the Tzolkin exactly was develloped, but in the Zapotec city of Monte Albán a date is written on some monuments that can be dated to 400 BC. The calendar is still used by some Maya groups in the highlands of Guatemala, in fact, the use of the calendar is growing.

The reason why the calendar had a cycle of 260 days is not quite sure. Present Maya's believe that the estimated time of pregnancy is the origin of the ammount of days. This idea is supported by the fact that new born babies are given the name of the Tzolkin day they were born on. The ritual calendar was also besed on the charecteristics for each day, that decided the character of each person. A Tzolkin sign was connected to a god that decided the destiny of a person since their birth, the accompanying number could strengthen or weaken this influance.

The Tzolkin based upon 20 daynames and 13 numbers (20 x 13 = 260). There was no real beginning date for the calendar (just like the universe this calendar had no beginning or end), but the dayname imix is often used as first dayname. The first day then was 1 Imix after which would follow 2 Ik until you came at 13 Ben, after this you would start again with 1 (so: 1 Ix). After 260 days the cycle was complete after which a new one started again with 1 Imix.

The picture on the right is showing the glyphs and daynames that were used in the Tzolkin calendar.

Gliefen van de Haab kalenderThe Haab Calendar

The Tzolkin calendar was used together with a calendar of 365 days, this calendar is called the Haab calendar or vage year (because of its slight inaccuracy). The Maya did not had a leap year like some claim, but they were indead aware of the differance with the solar year.

The Haab calendar was made up from 18 'months'of 20 days, plus 5 'unfavourable' days at the end of the year. These 5 days were placed in an extra nineteenth month that was called Uayeb. The days were considered extremely dangerous, probably because the last five days could not fit in a number system with base 20.

It would take 52 Haab years before a Tzolkin date would occur on the same Haab date, this cycle was named the calendar round.

The picture on the left is showing the glyphs and names of the 'months' that were used in the Haab calendar.

Gliefen van de Lange TellingThe Long Count

Identifying a important date from the past caused much problems for Pre-Columbian cultures. A date from the calendarround occured every 52 years so it wasn't clear when something happened or would occur. To solve this problem, an Ancient Pre-Columbian culture develloped the Long Count (which the Maya perfected).

The oldest Long Count date was found on stela 2 in Chiapa de Corzo (Chiapas, Mexico) and can probably linked with Mixe-Zoquean culture. This stela contained a date representing 8 december 36 BC. Because of this it is sure that the calendar was in use before the Maya. Because of this date, the Long Count is the oldest system in the world using the number 0 (zero).

The Long Count is a continual count of the days (just like the julian day count used by modern astronomers). The Long Count was started at the beginning of this worldera with on 13 august 3114 BC. This day can be compared with the birth of Christ in our calendar. After this date the counting of days was placed in kins, uinals, tuns, katuns and baktuns.

Kins were the single days till twenty, uinals were the periods of 20 days that has passed, tuns were the periods of 360 days that has passed, katuns were the periods of 7,200 days that has passed and the baktuns were the periods of 144,000 days that has passed (notice the difference with the normal number system, instead of 400 on the third line 360 is used).  

20 kins = 1 uinal = 20 days

18 uinals = 1 tun = 360 days

20 tuns = 1 katun = 7,200 days

20 katuns = 1 baktun = 144,000 days

Modern scientists write these days like in which the first number represents the baktun. The Long Count had a cycle of 13 baktuns. The cycle began with After the date the count would shift to and from there count to The end date of the present cycle is believed to be 23 december 2012. Many speculated what will happen on this date. Some think it is the end of the world, others think it will be the beginning of a period of world peace. We will just have to wait to find out.



See also:

The Kukulkan Pyramid of Chichén Itzá


Interesting links: Program with the chronology of the Ancient Maya based on the Long Count.