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exploring the Mayan calendarwith Alexandra Angelich

the Sacred Round
The traditional Maya Calendar is extremely sophisticated and intriguing. In western society, we keep count of days of the week, which are named (Monday, Tuesday, etc.) , and days of the month, which are numbered (1, 2, and so on). The Maya Calendar, contrastingly, ran on a sequence of 20 named days in a month, and 13 numbered days (I will refer to each set of 13 days as a "Mayan week"). Every day would be named according to both of these cycles. For example, if today were the 5th day of the "Mayan week" and the 12th day of the month, the day would be expressed as 5 Eb'. The same name for one day would only occur ever 260 days (since 13 x 20 = 260). This cycle of 260 was called the Sacred Count, or the Tzolkin. Each of the 20 day names were represented by a symbol for which the day was named.

the day names and corresponding symbols are listed in this chart:

day no.day namesymbolday no.day namesymbol
01Imix'11Chuwen
02Ik'12Eb'
03Ak'b'al13B'en
04K'an14Ix
05Chikchan15Men
06Kimi16K'ib
07Manik'17Kab'an
08Lamat18Etz'nab'
09Muluk19Kawak

the Haab'
The Mayans also kept a solar calendar called the Haab'. The Haab' consists of 18 months, which are 20 days long, and an extra 5 nameless days long month at the end of the cycle (18 x 20 = 360; 360 + 5 = 365, or a solar year). The months, in order, are as follows: Pop, Wo, Sip, Sotz', Sek, Xul, Yaxk'in, Mol, Ch'en, Yax, Sak, Mak, K'ank'in, Muwan, Pax, K'ayab', Kumk'u, and Wayeb (the short month).

In the Haab' calender, each day is expressed as the number, and the month. For example, the first month of the solar year, in days, would be written as 0 Pop, 1 Pop, 2 Pop...up to 19 Pop, and then the next day would be 0 Wo.

The combination of the Sacred Round and the Haab' is called the Calendar Round, only recurs every 52 years.


an example of a Mesoamerican Calendar Round
Long Count
Calendar round dates are only distinguishable for 52 years, so in order to record history, a more complex method of counting days was needed. The Long Count counts only days, disregarding the Calendar Round. It pretty much works like this: 1 day is called 1 K'in. 20 K'ins is 1 Winal (20 days). 18 Winal is equal to 1 Tun (360 days, roughly a year). 20 Tuns is 1 K'atun (7200 days, roughly 20 years). 20 K'atuns is 1 B'ak'tun, which is 400 Tuns (144000 days, around 395 years).

A date is expressed numerically, beginning with the B'ak'tun, and ending with the specific K'in. A Calendar Round date typically looks something like 8.17.12.6.9 4 Pop 12 Lamat (not a real date).

The mythical beginning of the Long Count was considered to be not 0.0.0.0.0, but 13.0.0.0.0, which went to 1.0.0.0.0, and then up to it's current count, which on December 21, 2012 will be back to 13.0.0.0.0. Contrary to popular belief, the Mayans didn't actually believe that the world would end on that date, though they did believe that there would be a major change in world order. Guess we'll just have to wait and find out.

References
"Maya calendar." Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_calendar.

Maya Calendar. Maya Calendar. http://www.mayacalendar.com.

Stuart, George E., and Stuart, Gene S. The Mysterious Maya. Washington, D.C. The National Geographic Society, 1977.

Freidel, David, and Schele, Linda, and Parker, Joe. Maya Cosmos: Three Thousand Years on the Shaman's Path. New York, NY. William Morrow and Company, Inc. 1993.

Boyer, Paul. When Time Shall Be No More. US. The President and Fellows of Harvard College. 1992.