Online Encyclopedia Search Tool

Your Online Encyclopedia


Online Encylopedia and Dictionary Research Site

Online Encyclopedia Free Search Online Encyclopedia Search    Online Encyclopedia Browse    welcome to our free dictionary for your research of every kind

Online Encyclopedia

Maya calendar

The Maya calendar is a system of complex and highly developed calendars created by the Maya Civilization of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. This series of calendars, includes a sacred 260-day calendar, called the Tzol'kin, a 365-day calendar called the Haab, and a 52-Haab cycle called the Calendar Round, which synchronised the Tzol'kin and Haab cycles.


The importance of time in the Maya culture

The Maya believed that time was cyclical instead of the western conception of linear time. This means that they thought that time repeated itself, so therefore, if they knew the past they could predict the future. By understanding time, they Maya could gain power over their world.

The Tzolíkin

The Tzol'kin calendar combines twenty day names with thirteen numbers to produce 260 unique days. It was used to determine the time of religious and ceremonial events and for divination.


The Maya believed that each day of the Tzolíkin had a character that influenced events. The Maya had a shaman-priest, whose name meant day keeper, that read the Tzolíkin to predict the future. When a child was born, the day keeper would interpret the Tzolíkin cycle to predict the babyís destiny. For example, a child born on the day of Akíabal was thought to be feminine, wealthy, verbally skillful, and possibly a liar, cheat or complainer. The birthday of Akíabal was also thought to give the child the ability to communicate with the supernatural world, so he or she might become a priest shaman or a marriage spokesman. In the Maya highlands, babies were even named after the day they were born on.

Origin of the Tzolíkin

The exact origin of the Tzolíkin is not known, but there are several theories. One theory is that the calendar came from mathematical operations based on the numbers thirteen and twenty, which were important numbers to the Maya. The number twenty was the basis of the Maya counting system, taken from the number of human fingers and toes. (See Maya numerals). Thirteen symbolized the number of levels in the Upperworld where gods lived. The numbers multiplied together equal 260. Another theory is that the 260-day period came from the length of human pregnancy. It is postulated that midwives originally developed the calendar to predict babiesí expected birth dates.

The Haab

The Haab was the Maya solar calendar made up of eighteen months of twenty days each and a five day month at the end of the year known as Wayeb or Uayeb that was called "the nameless days." Victoria Bricker estimates that the Haab was first used around 550 B.C.E. with the starting point of the winter solstice. The Haab was the foundation of the agrarian calendar and the month names are based on the seasons and agricultural events. For example the thirteenth month, Mac, may refer to the end of the rainy season and the fourteenth month, Kankin, may refer to ripe crops in the fall.


The five nameless days at the end of the calendar called Wayeb were thought to be a dangerous time. Lynn Foster writes that, "During Wayeb, portals between the mortal realm and the Underworld dissolved. No boundaries prevented the ill-intending deities from causing disasters." To ward off these evil spirits, the Maya had customs and rituals they practiced during Wayeb. For example, people avoided leaving their houses or washing or combing their hair.

The long count calendar

There was also a Long Count calendar which started at [] (with Maya record) on August 11, 3114 BC according to the "Goodman, Martinez-Hernandez, and Thompson" correlation (nicknamed "GMT"), the most widely accepted correlation between the Maya and Gregorian calendar. This cycle is 1,872,000 days in length, terminates on the Winter Solstice of (December 21) AD 2012 and is designated [] or [], since the Maya believed that time is somehow periodical. Another widely-used correlation, that of Lounsbury, correlates the start-day to August 13, 3114 BC and the terminal date to December 23, AD 2012.

The end of the world?

The turn of the great cycle is conjectured to have been of great significance to the Maya, but does not necessarily mark the end of the world. According to the Popol Vuh, a sacred book of the Maya, they were living in the fourth world. The Popal Vuh describes the first three worlds that the gods failed in making and the creation of the successful fourth world where men were placed. The Maya believed that the fourth world would end in catastrophe and the fifth and final world would be created that would signal the end of mankind.

The Venus cycle

Another important calendar for the Maya was the Venus cycle. The Maya were excellent astronomers, and could calculate the Venus cycle with only a two-hour margin of error. The Maya were able to achieve such accuracy by careful observation over many years. The Venus cycle was especially important because the Maya believed it was associated with war and used it to divine good times for coronations and war. Maya rulers planned for wars to begin when Venus rose. The Maya also tracked other planetís movements such as Mars, Mercury, and Jupiter.

See also


  • Bricker, Victoria. (1982). The Origin of the Maya Solar Calendar. Current Anthropology. 23 (1), 101-103.
  • Foster, Lynn V. (2002). Handbook to Life in the Ancient Mayan World. New York: Facts on File.
  • Ivanoff, Pierre. (1968). Mayan Enigma: The Search for a Lost Civilization. Elaine P. Halperin, trans. New York: Delacorte Press.
  • Tedlock, Barbara. (1982). Time and the Highland Maya. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
  • Tedlock,Dennis, trans. (1985). Popol Vuh: the Difinitive Edition of the Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life and the Glories of Gods and Kings. New York: Simon and Schuster.

External links

  • Maya calendar on
  • Maya calendar on, with conversion applet from Gregorian calendar to Maya date
  • Convert date from Maya long count to Gregorian calendar
  • Maya calendar on
  • Maya Time Keeping
  • Current Tzolkin round on
  • Maya Calendar and Links on

Last updated: 02-04-2005 10:03:52
Last updated: 02-26-2005 13:15:49