The Mayan civilization, known for its impressive architecture, mathematics, and astronomy, created a complex and accurate calendar system. The Mayan calendar has been somewhat of a mystery for centuries, with many scholars struggling to understand how it works. However, recent research has shed light on the mystery of the ancient calendar. Here’s what we know.
A Complex Calendar System
The Mayan calendar system is incredibly complex, with different calendars used for various purposes. The most well-known calendar is the Long Count Calendar, which consists of cycles of days, called k’in, and cycles of years, called baktun. The Long Count Calendar is based on the start date of August 13, 3114 BCE, and is still in use in some parts of the world today1.
The calendar also includes the Tzolk’in, a 260-day calendar used for divination and religious ceremonies, and the Haab’, a 365-day solar calendar used for agriculture and festivals. These calendars work together in a cyclical fashion, with their cycles overlapping and repeating every 52 years.
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How the Mayan Calendar Works
The calendar system is based on a vigesimal, or base-20, number system. Each position in the calendar represents a power of 20, with dots representing numbers one to four and bars representing five. The Long Count Calendar, for example, uses the following units of time:
- Kin: One day
- Winal: 20 k’in (20 days)
- Tun: 18 uinal (360 days)
- Katun: 20 tun (7,200 days)
- Baktun: 20 katun (144,000 days)
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Recent research has shed light on how the Mayan calendar works. Since the long-form calendar ran for over 5000 years and ended on December 21, 20122, many believed this was the coming of an apocalyptic event3.
For a long time, the calendars confused researchers as the timelines seemed to be from an arbitrary number of days. But when taken from a broader perspective, the timelines actually tracked the movements of all the planets in the night sky, rather than just the moon or the seasons4.
The Legacy of the Mayan Calendar
The Mayan calendar system is a testament to the incredible knowledge and sophistication of the Mayan civilization. The calendar system played a crucial role in the Mayans’ daily lives, from determining the best time to plant crops to predicting eclipses and conducting religious ceremonies. Despite the complexity of the calendar system, recent discoveries have shed light on how it works, and its legacy continues to inspire awe and wonder today.
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- “The Maya Calendar Explained.” Maya Archaeologist
- “Mayan calendar.” Britannica.
- “How the Mayan Calendar Works.” How Stuff Works. Ryan Johnson and Cristen Conger.
- “Scientists Finally Solved the Mystery of How the Mayan Calendar Works.” Popular Mechanics. Tim Newcomb. April 20, 2023.