At CulturalWorld, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.
The Mayan calendar is a complex system of time-tracking developed by the Mayan civilization of Mesoamerica. The calendar actually uses several different cycles, or methods of keeping track of time according to astronomic or mythic events. Although the Mayan calendar was not the only calendar in use by the ancient civilizations of Central and South America, many experts consider it the most advanced, and a clear indication of the scholarly emphasis in Mayan culture.
The most commonly understood Mayan calendar is called the Tzolk’in. This calendar divides a year or cycle into twenty sections of thirteen days, each with an associated spiritual figure. The year is 260 days, although the understanding as to why a cycle lasts that long is unclear. Some believe it is related to the length of pregnancy, the length of time between planting crops and harvesting, or that it is due to the importance of the numbers 13 and 20 in Mayan culture.
In addition to the Tzolk’in cycle, a connected solar cycle called the Haab’ was used. This calendar divided the year into 18 months with 20 days each, and an additional five unnamed days at the end of the year. The calendars were used in conjunction, so that any specific day identified by both the Tzolk’in and Haab’ methods would only occur once in a 52 year cycle. Instead of counting the years in number, this conjunction is believed to have been used as an accurate description of a date.
For periods longer than 52 years, an additional calendar method was developed called the Long Count. This allowed determination of extremely long periods, and is often found carved on Mayan monuments. From what anthropologists can tell, the Long Count began approximately on 11 August 3114 BCE, according to the Gregorian calendar. Since there is no evidence that the Long Count is meant to be repeating, some believe that the Mayans expected the world to end at the completion of the Long Count cycle, which will be in 21 December 2012. According to some popular astrologers and New Age thinkers, it is on this day that an apocalypse or similar revolutionary global event will take place.
The Mayan calendar is a window into an ancient world, one that Western authorities long and mistakenly believed was a primitive and barbaric place. Instead, as investigations into early Mesoamerican culture have continued, archeologists and anthropologists continue to turn up evidence of highly advanced societies that rivaled or surpassed their Western contemporaries. The complexity of the Mayan calendar tells experts quite a bit about their culture: for example, that they were astronomers. It also suggests an awareness of societal longevity; the Long Count clearly shows that the Mayans knew they would be around for a while.
Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica remains shrouded in mystery, no matter how many temples we discover or artifacts we find. It is interesting to reflect on the possible influence the culture would have asserted had Western imperialism and clan wars not destroyed much of the civilization. The discovery and understanding of the Mayan calendar is a precious piece of information, worth study and scholarly pursuit, and an open door into a mist-shrouded history that experts still try valiantly to understand.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the basic structure of the Mayan Calendar?
The Mayan Calendar consists of three separate corresponding calendars: the Long Count, the Tzolk'in (divine calendar), and the Haab' (civil calendar). The Tzolk'in is a 260-day calendar made up of 20-day names and 13-day numbers. The Haab' is a solar calendar of 365 days divided into 18 months of 20 days each, plus a short month of 5 days. The Long Count is used to track longer periods and is a linear count of days since a mythological starting-point.
How did the Mayans use their calendar to predict events?
The Mayans used their calendar to predict celestial events and seasons, which were integral to their agriculture and religious ceremonies. They were skilled astronomers and could forecast solar eclipses and the movements of planets with great accuracy. The calendar was also used to determine auspicious dates for various activities, such as farming, warfare, and religious rituals, by interpreting the cycles and patterns within the calendar system.
What was the significance of the 2012 date in the Mayan Calendar?
The year 2012 gained notoriety due to a misinterpretation of the Mayan Long Count calendar, which marked the end of a 13th b'ak'tun (a period of approximately 394 years). Some believed this would coincide with apocalyptic events. However, scholars and Mayanists have clarified that the Mayans saw this as a completion of a cycle and the start of a new one, not an end-of-the-world prophecy.
How accurate is the Mayan Calendar compared to the Gregorian Calendar?
The Mayan Calendar is remarkably accurate, especially considering when it was created. The Haab' aligns closely with the solar year, though it is slightly shorter by about a quarter of a day. This discrepancy means the Mayan calendar would drift from the solar year over long periods. The Gregorian Calendar, which is the calendar in common use today, has leap years to correct this drift. Despite this, the Mayan Calendar's complex cycles allowed for precise astronomical predictions without the need for leap years.
Can the Mayan Calendar still be used today?
Yes, the Mayan Calendar can still be used today. Descendants of the ancient Maya, as well as enthusiasts and scholars, continue to study and employ the calendar for cultural, historical, and educational purposes. The calendar's cycles repeat, so it is possible to correlate Mayan dates with those of the Gregorian calendar, allowing for its continued use in tracking time and understanding Mayan history and culture.