This page describes the Mayan calendar system

All pictures are © Dr. Günther Eichhorn, unless otherwise noted.

Long Count

The Maya used the so-called Long Count in their inscriptions on their monuments (see Long Count in Wikipedia). The Long Count has five positional values. The Maya used a vigesimal numbering system, which means that each positional number is a multiple of 20 of the previous position. The origin of the calendar (Long Date is equivalent to 11 August, 3114 BCE in the proleptic Gregorian calendar. An important exception was made for the second-order place value, which instead represented 18 × 20, or 360 days, more closely approximating the solar year than would 20 × 20 = 400 days. This calendar has no direct association with the solar year, so there is no reason for any leap years. The positions had individual names. The first position was called K'in (Day). The second position was called Winal = 20 K'in (about 3 weeks). The third position (which was approximately 1 year) was called Tun = 18 Winal. The fourth position was called K'atun = 20 Tun (approximately 20 years). The fifth position was called B'ak'tun = 20 K'atun (approximately 400 years).

This type of calendar can be used to describe any date (just as our calendar can), but without the problems of leap years, since it is not tied to the solar year. The current craze about the "End of the World" is based on the coincidence that the Mayan calendar moves to a new B'ak'tun of on 21 December, 2012. This has as much validity as the "End of the World" as the transition to the year 2000 (or any other "End of the World" prediction).

Tzolk'in Sacred Cycle

The Tzolk'in (see Tzolk'in in Wikipedia) was a calendar notation of a 260 day sacred cycle. The tzolk'in calendar combines twenty day names with the thirteen numbers of the trecena cycle to produce 260 unique days. It is used to determine the time of religious and ceremonial events and for divination. Each successive day is numbered from 1 up to 13 and then starting again at 1. Separately from this, every day is given a name in sequence from a list of 20 day names (the glyphs are from Wikipedia):

Day Nr.Day NameGlyphDay Nr.Day NameGlyph
01Imix'Honduras Imix11ChuwenHonduras Chuwen
02Ik'Honduras Ik12Eb'Honduras Eb
03Ak'b'alHonduras Akbal13B'enHonduras Ben
04K'anHonduras Kan14IxHonduras Ix
05ChikchanHonduras Chikchan15MenHonduras Men
06KimiHonduras Kimi16K'ib'Honduras Kib
07Manik'Honduras Manik17Kab'anHonduras Kaban
08LamatHonduras Lamat18Etz'nab'Honduras Etznab
09MulukHonduras Muluk19KawakHonduras Kawak
10OkHonduras Ok20AjawHonduras Ajaw

Haab' Solar Calendar

The Maya also used a solar calendar, called Haab' (see Haab' in Wikipedia). It was made up of eighteen months of twenty days each plus a period of five days ("nameless days") at the end of the year known as Wayeb'. Following is a table with the 18 month names (the glyphs are from Wikipedia).

Month Nr.NameGlyphMeaningMonth Nr.NameGlyphMeaning
1PopHonduras Popmat10YaxHonduras Yaxgreen storm
2Wo'Honduras Woblack conjunction11Sak'Honduras Sakwhite storm
3SipHonduras Sipred conjunction12KehHonduras Kehred storm
4Sotz'Honduras Sotzbat13MakHonduras Makenclosed
5SekHonduras Sekwatering time14K'ank'inHonduras Kankinyellow sun
6XulHonduras Xuldog15Muwan'Honduras Muwanowl
7Yaxk'in'Honduras Yaxkinnew sun16PaxHonduras Paxplanting time
8MolHonduras Molwater17K'ayabHonduras Kayabturtle
9Ch'enHonduras Chenblack storm18Kumk'uHonduras Kumkugranary
19Wayeb'Honduras Wayebfive unlucky days

Each day in the Haab' calendar was identified by a day number in the month followed by the name of the month.

The Mayans were aware of the inaccuracies of a year with 365 days, but did not apply any corrections because of that. Their Long Count calendar is not associated with the solar year and is therefore always 100% correct. This may be the reason for the myth that the Maya used a very accurate calendar, more accurate than ours. Their calendar was 100% accurate, but was not correlated with the solar year.

Calendar Round

Neither the Tzolk'in nor the Haab' system numbered the years. The combination of a Tzolk'in date and a Haab' date was enough to identify a date to most people's satisfaction, as such a combination did not occur again for another 52 years, above general life expectancy.

Because the two calendars were based on 260 days and 365 days respectively, the whole cycle would repeat itself every 52 Haab' years exactly. This period was known as a Calendar Round. The end of the Calendar Round was a period of unrest and bad luck among the Maya, as they waited in expectation to see if the Gods would grant them another cycle of 52 years (from Wikipedia: Mayan Calendar).

Example Tzolk'in Date Top
Example of a Tzolk'in date (top) and a Haab' date (bottom) on Altar Q: The accession date of ruler 16 (6 Kab'an 10 Mol, 2 July 763 CE). The Tzolk'in date looks at first glance like 8 Kab'an, but the top and bottom dot are broken, indicating that they don't count. They did that to make to hieroglyphs look more symmetrical. (146k)

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Page last updated on Tue Sep 24 18:19:03 2019 (Mountain Standard Time)

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