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Ancient Dates and Time:
A Guide to the Maya Calendar

The Mayan culture continues to amaze developed countries in the western world, especially in regards to its calendar system. Contrary to popular perception, the Mayan calendar consists of multiple calendars used before the arrival of the Conquistadors. In addition, many neighboring Mesoamerican communities used the calendars, including Guatemala, Chiapas, Veracruz, and Oaxaca, Mexico. The Mayans based their calendar system off an ancient prototype dating back to the 5th century B.C.E. The Mayan calendar shares many similarities with other calendars employed within Mesoamerica civilizations, such as the Olmecs, Zapotecs, Mixtecs, and the Aztecs. While the Mesoamerican calendar did not originate with the Mayans, they were the civilization to extend and refine it into its sophisticated form. The Mayans attributed their knowledge to the deity Itzamna, making it a cultural-religious icon for its native people. Click here to find the year your Rolex was made by serial numbers.

The Tzolk'in Calendar

The Mayan calendar consists of multiple cycles, often referred to as counts, or different lengths of time. The Tzolk'in calendar consists of 260 days. Researchers commonly refer to the Tzolk'in calendar as the Maya Sacred Round. The term “tzolk'in” translates into the “count of days.” Other Mesoamerican versions of this calendar existed during the pre-Columbian period, including the Aztec equivalent called the Tonalpohualli. The tzolk'in calendar combines 20 day names with the trecena cycle, resulting in a 260-day calendar. The Maya culture used the tzolk'in calendar to determine the correct time to hold religious rites and ceremonial events. In addition, the Maya culture used the tzolk'in calendar to divine the future. Each period has thirteen consecutive days before starting again at one. The Maya assigned a separate name for each day in a twenty-day sequence.

The Haab

The Maya also used the Haab', an eighteen month solar calendar that consisted of twenty days, including a period of five nameless days at the end of the year. The five nameless days at the end of the year were called the Wayeb, a perilous time period where the Mayans anticipated that the portals between the earthly and spiritual realms would dissolve. The Mayans believed that the ill-intending deities of the spiritual realm could cause disasters to happen on the mortal plane. In order to prevent calamities from occurring, the Mayans held ritual ceremonies to ward off and appease the evil spirits from doing harm during the Wayeb. The Mayans identified Haab' calendar by a day number and name of the month. Each calendar day number started with a glyph, which was regarded as day zero, or the “seating day” of that particular month. The Haab' was the least accurate of the Mayan calendars, because it regarded the year as having exactly 365 days and ignored the quarter day of the tropical year. Scholars draw correlations between the Haab' and the wandering calendar years of the Ancient Egyptians.

The Calendar Round

The Maya incorporated the Calendar Round date in both the Tzolk'in and the Haab'. The Calendar Round repeats after fifty-two Haab' years, an equivalent of eighteen thousand nine hundred and eighty days. For instance, the most recognized date of creation began on the 4th of Ahau 8th Kumk'u. The Maya would refer to the recurrence of this date as a completed Calendar Round. Scholars assert that not every possible combination of Tzolk'in and Haab' can occur to create a Calendar Round.

The Long Count Calendar

A Calendar Round repeats every fifty-two solar years, which means that the cycle recurs once a lifetime. Therefore, the Mayans refined a method of dating that specifies dates longer than fifty-two years. The Long Count Calendar was an attempt to record history accurately. The Mayans used the Long Count Calendar to refer to years longer than fifty-two years. The Long Count Calendar consists of four high-order cycles, including the kalabtun, k'inchiltun, alautun, and the piktun. It became particularly well suited for monuments, because of the unambiguity of the Long Count Calendar dates. Many people have misinterpreted the Long Count calendar as predicting dire cataclysms in the near future; however, archaeologists suggest that the calendar will simply continue to the next b'ak'tun.

The Short Count Calendar

During the rise of the Postclassic Yucatan kingdoms, scholars discontinued the use of the cyclical Long Count calendar and began implementing the Short Count notation of 13 katuns. Each katun was named after its concluding day, also known as the Ahau or “Lord.” In addition, the Short Count Calendar incorporated one Imix as the first day of the recurrent cycle. Chilam Balam, a colonialist author, wrote about this system in his books. He elaborated that this system projected onto the landscape, resulting in the division of the Yucatan into thirteen separate kingdoms under the guidance of the thirteen Ahauob or “Lordships.”

Venus Cycle

The Mayans also incorporated the Venus cycle into their calendar system. The Mayan kings ordered astronomers to calculate the Venus cycle with astounding accuracy. In fact, the Dresden Codex, a Postclassic Yucatan text, highlights the accurate calculation of Venus rising. The Mayans achieved this accuracy through careful observation of the solar system. The Mayans referred to Venus as the “Morning Star,” and the “Evening Star,” because it could be visibly seen both during the day and at night. Therefore, the Maya revered Venus for its uniqueness. In fact, Mesoamerican societies often depicted Venus as ruling over the Sun and Moon. Scholars assert that the Mayans associated Venus with war and through divination of good times.


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