The Mayan Calendar is an ancient dating system, which consists of three interlacing calendars. The calendar was used in Central America, by Mesoamerican civilizations such as the Mayan civilization. Some modern communities still use it to this day.
Against popular belief, the Mayan calendar was not invented by the Mayans. Rather, the calendar is based on a system that had been in use since the 5th century BC, and the Mayans helped to develop it. Many civilizations such as the Olmec and the Aztecs were already using this system, before the Mayans.
How does the Mayan Calendar work?
The Mayan Calendar is based on a system of 260 named days, and a year of 365 days. It is made of three separate calendars, which put together form a "Calendar Round" that corresponds to 18,980 days, or 52 years.
How is the date determined in the Mayan Calendar?
Dates are determined by their position on the Tzolkin and Haab calendars, and there are 18,980 unique combinations that identify the day in the 52-year cycle. The combinations are specified by the two wheels that make up the Mayan Calendar, which rotate in different directions. The largest wheel represents the Haab and the smallest one corresponds to the Tzolkin.
The Three Mayan Calendars
The Haab, the Tzolkin and the Long Count are used together to calculate the days and count the time in the Mayan Calendar. They each have different characteristics and are used for separate purposes.
The Haab is the civil calendar used by the Mayan civilization. It is a solar calendar, and it has 365 days.
This calendar is divided into 18 months, which have 20 days each. The extra 5 days at the end of the year make up their own month, called the Uayeb or "nameless days". On these 5 days, Mayan people would not leave their homes, as these were thought to be dangerous times.
The 19 months are represented in the outer ring of the Haab calendar by glyphs, which define a personality that is related to the month. Days are represented by a number, followed by the name of the month.
Months in the Haab calendar:
The Tzolkin (which translates to "count of days") is also known as the Divine Calendar. It represents the 260 days in the Maya Sacred Round, and is used to determine the dates of religious days, harvests, and ceremonial events, such as weddings.
The 260 days are divided into 20 periods of 13 days each. The days are numbered from 1 to 13, and divided into 20 day names. These cycles of 13 and 20 repeat until they both get back to the first number and first name, after 260 days.
The days in the Tzolkin calendar are as follows:
The Long Count
The Mayans also have an astronomical calendar, used to track longer periods of time, counting all the days since the beginning of the Universe, which the Mayans believe was August 11, 3114 B.C.
This calendar is cyclical, which means it has a beginning and an end, after which it starts again. Each cycle is about 7885 years. It is a Mayan belief that the Universe is destroyed and then regenerated at the start of each cycle of the Long Count.
The 2012 Mayan Calendar Event
The previous Long Count cycle ended on December 21, 2012, which led many people to believe that the world would end on that day. This led to mass hysteria, and gained quite a lot of media attention, which later became known as the 2012 phenomenon.
Where is the Mayan Calendar still used today?
The Mayan civilization still has big populations that follow ancient traditions, customs and beliefs, one of which is the Mayan Calendar. These populations are spread across Central America, in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and some parts of Mexico.