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Maya Calendar Round

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"No one ever realizes the highly intelligent and intricate mathematics and astronomical calendars incorporated in the Mayan pyramids, or the Great Pyramid at Giza or Stonehenge and others while in 1492 Columbus and other explorers of that day believe in a geocentric universe!"
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Mayan Timelines
MesoAmerica
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Archaeology Atlas of Mexico

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Introduction to the Mayan Calendar
Mayan Calendar of 260 Days

Calculations of the congruence of the 260-day and the 365-day Maya cycles is almost exactly equal to the actual solar year in the tropics, with only a 19-minute margin of error.
(www.civilization.ca/membrs/civiliz/maya/mmc07eng.html - Accessed 10/18/2000) Mystery of the Maya
While the Maya are known for their phenomenally accurate, complex, calculations of the orbits of stars, planets and moon, and precise reckoning of the solstices and eclipses, there is also an effective, but much more ordinary, almost easy to understand calendar. Even that, the shamans had to calculate.

The Calendar Round

It was used to name individuals, predict the future, decide on auspicious dates for battles, marriages, and so on. Each single day had its omens and associations, and the inexorable march of the 20 days was like a perpetual fortune-telling machine, guiding the destinies of the Maya.
(http://www.civilization.ca/membrs/civiliz/maya/mmc06eng.html) - Maya Civilization

The ancient Maya and other Mesoamericans used a 52-year pattern, a calendar round, referred to as a bundle -- like our concept "century" -- composed of two cycles which fit together like cogwheels with unequal numbers of teeth.

260-day Count

The Maya (Mayan, by custom, refers only to language) divided their year into four quadrants with 65 days in each. We are unsure where the number 260 comes from, but it might relate to the period of human gestation or the interval between the planet Venus' emergence as eveningstar and morning star. Regardless of where it comes from, the 260-day cycle is the first in the Calendar Round. It is made by intermeshing the number symbols (dots for units and bars for fives) from 1-13 with the glyphs for twenty days named after deities who carry time acros the sky.
The 260-day count - tzolkin
Imix
Ik
Akbal
Kan
Chicchan
Cimi
Manik
Lamat
Muluc
Oc
Chuen
Eb
Ben
Ix
Men
Cib
Caban
Etz'nab
Cauac
Ahau

also described in terms of type of animal:
Alligator
Death
Monkey
Owl
Wind
Deer
Grass
Quake
House
Rabbit
Reed
Knife
Lizard
Water
Jaguar
Rain
Serpent
Dog
Eagle
Flower

The first day on this calendar would be 1 Imix. The second would be 2 Ik, followed by 3 Akbal. The thirteenth would be 13 Ben which would be followed by 1 Ix, 2 Men, 3 Cib, etc. A period of 260 days brought the calendar back to 1 Imix.

In case this is hard to follow, think of our calendar with names for the days of the week and numbers for the days of the month. In October, there are 31 days, but only seven weekday names, so Friday the thirteenth is followed by Saturday the fourteenth, Sunday the fifteenth ... and then, by the time names for days of the week run out, we're back to Friday, but with a new number; this time, Friday, the twentieth. It will be many months before we start again by reaching a new Friday the thirteenth.

Since it still keeps track of time, priests today continue to use this "Tzolkin" calendar (also known as Sacred Calendar, the Earth Calendar, the Sacred Almanac, and the Count of Days) for divination.

Vague Year or haab

A second, solar calendar named "vague" because it only approximates the 365 day calendar is composed of eighteen months with twenty days in each. The twentieth day makes use of the Maya's concept of zero since, instead of its being numbered twenty, it is described as the day of the seating of the following month. The months of this agricultural calendar are:
  • Pop
  • Uo
  • Zip
  • Zotz
  • Tzec
  • Xul
  • Yaxkin
  • Mol
  • Chen
  • Yax
  • Zac
  • Ceh
  • Mac
  • Kankin
  • Muan
  • Pax
  • Kayab
  • Cumku
At the end of the eighteen months, an unlucky five day period (Uayeb) is intercalated.Days are named according to both of these calendars, so a day could be 1 Imix 1 Pop (1 Pop being the Maya New Year), but it would take 52 Vague years (18,980 days) before 1 Imix would line up again with 1 Pop. One problem with this system (called the Calendar Round) is that it makes no provision for keeping track of events in earlier or future 52 year cycles.

The Maya dreaded the five intercalated days (Uayeb) and the end of the 52-year period. Towards the end of the longer interval, they worried the gods might be dissatisfied with mankind and bring about the end of the world.

But all this pales by comparison with the end of the 5125-year Long Count Calendar cycle which will be here in 2012.

Maya Calendar Quiz

Most of the information comes from Linda Schele's and David Freidel's A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya; New York: William Morrow and Co, Inc., 1990.

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