The Calendar Components

By maya On October 30th

1).- The Kin

The Maya year has a basic unit called Kin, a word that means day, Sun, etc. The Tzolkin calendar has a cycle of 20 day names combined with a cycle of 13 day numbers. Each of these 20 names has a glyph to represent it, these are:

2).- The Uinal

The Maya year is divided in 18 months, they are designated Uinal, each has a name and a corresponding glyph. Of these months, the first eighteen have twenty days and the last one, called Uayeb, has only five. The days within a month are numbered from 0 to 19 with the exception of Uayeb which is numbered from 0 to 4.

3).-The Numbers

To write their dates the Maya used both the glyph corresponding to the different time periods and a number for each of them. The Maya developed a unique mathematical system that uses dots for units and bars for five units. The numbers can be written vertically or horizontally. They discovered and used the zero as well as a vigesimal positioning system, similar to the decimal positioning system used today. Its symbols and their Arabic equivalents are:

Since the Maya numerical system is based on 20 units, when a number higher than 19 has to be written, a vertical positioning system that grows upwards is commonly used. Thus in order to write 20 they would place a zero in the bottom position with a dot on top of it. The dot in this place means one unit of the second order which is worth 20. To write 21, the zero would change to a dot and for the subsequent numbers the original 19 number count will follow in the first position. As they in turn reach 19 again, another units is added to the second position. This unit, for normal mathematical calculations, is worth 400 (20 x 20) , so to write 401 a dot goes in the first position , a zero in the second and a dot in the third. Positions higher than the third also grow multiplied by twenties from the previous ones. Only in the Maya calendric calculations is the third place unit worth 360 instead of 400, but after that, the rest of the positions also grow multiplied by twenties. Examples follow:

As we mentioned previously the Maya set a fixed date to initiate their calendric calculations. This date is 4 Ahau 8 Kumku which in the Gregorian calendar used today corresponds to August 13, 3114 BC As we do today, to write any specific date they would consider the time elapsed since the beginning of their calendar. In order to do this the days were grouped into units like today’s years and centuries. Each of these units had a specific symbol (glyph). Their system is:

Using these glyphs combined with numbers, any date can be written as the number of days that have passed since the beginning of the calendar. The Maya wrote their dates of importance in stone monuments called stelae some of which we can still see today. Some of them are like the stela with today’s date.

[Source: Maya Calendar]

Calendar Description and Coordination

By maya On October 30th

The Maya Calendar we find in the codices that survived the Spanish conquest and the burning of documents by Bishop Diego de Landa, at Mani, Yucatán, México is used today to corroborate the calculations written in those codices and to calculate the dates of the Maya stelae and lintels. This calendar is called the initial series calendar or the long count calendar and it includes the following three individual calendars which are perfectly coordinated.

a).- An astronomical calendar which initiates on the date the Sun passes perpendicularly through the zenith, a day between the 24 – 26 of July each year. Its calculated to be 365.2420 days long and was used to fix the position of the solstices, the equinoxes, the synodic revolutions of the planets in our solar system, the eclipse nodes and other celestial phenomena. This calendar must have been the base of reference used by the Maya astronomer – priests for their astronomical calculations which were made with a minimum of 4 decimals. Examples of this can be found in the codices.

b).- The civil calendar or Haab of 365 days is often referred to as the Vague Year. It is composed of 18 months of 20 days and one month 5 days long called uayeb. The difference of one fourth of a day in regard to the astronomical calendar makes a periodical correction necessary through methods foreseen by the Maya. Within this calendar runs the Tun year 360 days long which was used for calendric calculations.

c).-The Tzolkin, Mayan name that means “the distribution of the days”, was a ceremony performed on the astronomical new year. In this ceremony the astronomer – priests indicated the days in which the agricultural labor and religious ceremonies were to take place within a 260 day cycle. The Tzolkin is also the name used to designate the most important calendar of the Maya which has also been called the sacred almanac or the Sacred Round. It is a combination of a cycle of 13 day numbers with a cycle of 20 day names (the Kin). In every 365 day Haab year there always runs a 260 day Tzolkin calendar.

The Maya usually described a date by specifying its position in both the Tzolkin and the Haab calendars, this alignment of the Sacred Round and the Vague Year generates the joint cycle called the Calendar Round.

This diagram explains graphically how the Tzolkin and the Haab calendars coordinate.

In these two wheels, the smallest with 260 teeth (left) has on each one the name of the 260 days of the Tzolkin year and the largest with 365 teeth (right) has in their interstice the names of each of the positions of the Haab year. Since the Haab year always begins on a date 0 Pop and the Tzolkin year can only began in a day called Ik, Manik, Eb or Caban, when 2 Ik is placed in conjunction with 0 Pop and wheel A is rotated clockwise wheel B will rotate counter-clockwise and the name of the Tzolkin day that corresponds to each Haab position falls into place.

[Source: Maya Calendar]

The Calendar

By maya On October 30th

Calendar (L. calendarium)

1.- A catalog that registers all the days of a year, distributed in weeks and months, with astronomical data, such as time of sunrise and sunset, the moon phases, or with religious information such as patron saints and festivities.

2.- A time division system, all of the world’s cultures have their calendars initially lunar and afterwards lunar-solar. The Chaldeans and Babylonians passed their calendric knowledge to the Egyptians, these in turn to the Greeks and these finally to the Romans who adopted it for their common use.

From the beginning of civilization there has been a very close link between astrology and the development of the calendar. The importance of this connection is evident considering the need to determine the times for the most basic functions of early societies such as agriculture and the celebration of religious events.

The most ancient calendars were probably based on lunar observation since the Moon’s phases take place in an easily observed interval. It is most likely that the sighting of the crescent Moon marked a new time period. It was observed that recurrent Moon’s phases were about 29 days apart. This gave birth to the first lunar calendars containing 29-30 days per time period (month), but since the sum of twelve or thirteen months differ from the length of a tropical year this calendar was not completely suitable for agricultural practices.

Due to this difference and in order to keep in step with the Sun, the lunar-solar calendars were born, adding a complementary time period to the total of days in the Moon’s cycles so as to equal the solar year. Many of these calendars, with variations, existed through time in different areas of the world. In pre-Columbian America the Maya and Aztec calendars were very important. They are remarkably accurate and are made of 18 months of 20 days plus five supplemental days.

Later the solar calendars came to be, for example the Julian calendar which was instituted in Rome by Julius Caesar in 46 BC. This calendar set the year’s length at 365 days and added one day to the year every four years. Pope Gregory XIII modified this calendar in 1582. And even though the Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar in the sense that it does not take into consideration the Moon in its calculations, it does contain rules for determining Easter and other religious holidays which are based on both the Sun and the Moon. The Gregorian calendar is used today in most of the world, it is divided into the twelve months we all know.

Historically people have sensed the need to have a fixed point to start their time calculations. In order to do this generally the starting point has been determined either by a historical event (the birth of Jesus) or by a hypothetical event (the date of the world’s creation). Of all known cultures the Maya seem to have been the first to discover the need for such a date, using probably an astronomically significant or a hypothetical event they placed at 3114 BC.

[Source: Maya Calendar]

The Maya

By maya On October 30th

One of the most amazing cultures of the New World inhabited a region encompassing today’s Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador, and parts of southern Mexico (the states of Yucatan, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Tabasco and Chiapas). Today this area is occupied by the descendants of the ancient Maya, the vast majority of whom have to some extent preserved their cultural heritage and still speak the Mayan language.

By 5000 BC, the Maya had settled along the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, in fishing communities. By 2000 BC the Maya had also moved inland and adopted agriculture for their subsistence. Maize and beans formed the Maya diet then as today, although many other foodstuffs–manioc, squash, tomatoes, peppers, fruit, and game-were supplements.

To study the Maya their development has been divided into periods, the earlier Maya culture is called Formative or Pre Classic (2000 BC-AD 300), the Classic period goes from AD 300 to AD 900, and subsequent civilization is known as Post Classic (AD 900-conquest).

Now we know that the Maya began to develop intensive agriculture and sophisticated water management during the Middle Pre Classic (900-300 BC), surely to help support the population explosion of the Late Pre Classic (300 BC-AD 300). During this same period, writing was invented in Mesoamerica, and the Maya began to use it during the Late Pre Classic.

The Maya were the first people of the New World to keep historical records, and even if writing in the New World did not originate among the Maya, they developed and used it extensively. The Maya wrote a mixed script, with ideographic and phonetic elements.

Most of their writing survived on stelae, stone monuments very common in the Maya cities, they recount mostly civil events and record their calendric and astronomical knowledge.

Maya pottery gives testimony of their religion and elaborate mythology. Four Post Classic Maya screenfold manuscripts, called codices have survived, They reveal Maya calendric and astronomical calculations, as well as rituals, offerings, and auguries for the year.

The Maya used several calendars simultaneously. One of them called the “long count”, is a continuous record of days from a zero date that correlates to Aug. 13, 3114 BC, and is more precise than the Julian calendar revised in Europe in 1582. The Maya were great astronomers and kept track of the solar and lunar years, eclipses and the cycles of visible planets. To carry out their calendric and astronomical calculations they developed a sophisticated mathematical system where units are written with dots and bars are used to represent five units. They discovered and used the zero as well as a vigesimal positioning system, similar to the decimal positioning system we use today.

During the Classic period monumental architecture and stelae with historical records were erected, on these monuments the Maya rulers reigned as divine kings. The Maya thrived during the Late Classic (AD 550-900), and art, architecture, writing, commerce and intensive agricultural practices flourished all through the Maya lands. More than 2 million people may have lived in the area, and it is estimated that Tikal, the largest center, had a population of 75,000-100,000.

However, the Classic Maya cities did not survive into the 10th century. It seems that the system of rule that had served them well for centuries failed. Probably faced with famine, foreign invasion, chronic warfare, adverse climatic conditions and perhaps disease, the Classic period ended in what is called the Classic Maya collapse. The Maya continued to live in both highlands and lowlands but the period of their greatest splendor was over. In the northern Yucatan peninsula, civilization continued at Uxmal and the surrounding area. The Post Classic saw the splendor of Chichen Itza. Chichen Itza was probably abandoned by the 12th century. Trading towns survived along the Caribbean coast. Tulum, a spectacular walled city and a major trading town, located above the coastline of what is now the state of Quintana Roo on Mexico’s Caribbean seashore is a great example of these. This city when seen from a Spanish ship was compared to Seville.

The Maya of Yucatan finally broke up into small states and the Spanish took advantage of this division to take control in 1542. In that year, after having been fought back during 15 years, they were able to establish their own capital at Mérida, (in today’s State of Yucatan, Mexico) on the site of a Maya city called Tiho. The last of the Maya kingdoms, Tayasal, in Lake Peten Itza (Guatemala), was conquered by the Spanish in 1697, 155 years after the conquest of Merida.

[Source: Maya Calendar]