Monday, February 08, 2010

How the Mayan Calendar Works ?

Most people around the globe look at some form of a calendar every single day. Business executives check to see when their meetings are scheduled. The busy mom confirms soccer practices and piano lessons. College students ensure that their papers are turned in on time and they have plenty of time to study for their history exams. For the people of ancient Maya, calendars were just as important to daily life as they are to people today. In this article, we'll look at how the Mayan calendar came to be and the meaning behind each type of calendar the Mayans created. First, let's get a little background on the Mayans.
The Mayans originated in a region called Mesoamerica, or Middle America. This region lies in betweenMexico and South America and was home to many other cultures, including the Aztec, Olmec, Teotihuacan and Toltec. The Mayans lived in what are today's Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador and Southern Mexico (Yucatan, Campeche, Quintana Roo Tabasco and Chiapas).
Mayan history is broken into three periods:
  • Formative or Pre-classic - 2000 B.C. until A.D. 300
  • Classic - A.D. 300 until A.D. 900
  • Post-classic - A.D. 900 until the Spanish Inquisition in the 1400s

The Mayans weren't the first ever to use a calendar -- there were ancient calendars in use throughout civilizations worldwide -- but they did create four different calendars. Depending on their needs, the Mayans used different calendars to record each event, either alone, or in some combination of two calendars.Mesoamericans began writing during the mid-Pre-classic period. The Mayans were the first to keep any sort of historical record, and the beginnings of the calendar were born. The Mayans used stelae, or stone monuments, to carve their civil events, calendars and astronomy knowledge. They also recorded their religious beliefs and mythology on pottery.

The Tzolk'in Calendar

The Tzolk'in calendar was the first one used by the Mayans. Most calendars used throughout Mesoamerica consisted of 260 days. The Tzolk'in, or Sacred Round, calendar followed suit. One theory for its length is that 260 days is the length of pregnancy, and the calendar was based on that [source: Maya Mystery School]. Another states that it was the length of time to cultivate corn. It's more likely that it was based on numbers.
Numbers had great significance in the Mayan culture. For example, the number 20 signifies the number of digits a person has -- 10 fingers and 10 toes. The number 13 refers to the major joints in the human body where it's believed disease and illness enter and attack -- one neck, two shoulders, two elbows, two wrists, two hips, two knees and two ankles [source: Garcia]. The number 13 also represented the levels of heaven where sacred lords ruled the Earth [source: Tzolk'in Calendar].
It's these numbers, 20 and 13, that are used to make up the Tzolk'in calendar. In the Gregorian calendar, we have seven days of the week and, depending on the month, anywhere from 28 to 31 days. The Tzolk'in calendar is made up of 20 day names and 13 numbers. The days are numbered one through 13, and the names are also given in sequence.
Tzolk'in Calendar Day Names
1. Imix'
2. Ik'
3. Ak'b'al
4. K'an
5. Chikchan
6. Kimi
7. Manik'
8. Lamat
9. Muluk
10. Ok
11. Chuwen
12. Eb'
13. B'en
14. Ix
15. Men
16. Kib'
17. Kab'an
18. Etz'nab'
19. Kawak
20. Ajaw

The beginning of the Tzolk'in calendar begins with the first day name, Imix', and the number one. The days continue in sequence until all 13 numbers are used. Then, the numbers begin again with one, but the day names continue with the 14th day. Once you reach 13 B'en, you will continue on with 1 Ix, 2 Men, 3 Kib', and so forth until you reach 7 Ajaw. At this point, the day names begin again, but the numbers continue: 8 Imix', 9 Ik', 10 Ak'b'al, and so on.
Think of two gears that interlock together. One has the 20 day names and the corresponding hieroglyphics. The other, smaller one has the numbers one through 13. If you lock those gears together at the number one and the day name Imix', then rotate them until you reach one and Imix' again, you'll have 260 unique days, making up the Tzolk'in calendar.
It's easy to see the significance the Mayans put in the Tzolk'in calendar. For example, they believed that the date of your birth determines the characteristics you'll show in your personality -- much like some people believe your astrological sign does today.
The Mayans also used the calendar to determine the crop schedule: It takes one 260-day cycle to prepare the land to plant corn, and one 260-day cycle to grow and harvest the corn.
Holy men used the calendar to determine when certain events would take place throughout the year. At the beginning of each uinal (period of 20 days), a shaman would count forward to determine when religious and ceremonial events would occur. Then he set the dates that would be the most prosperous or lucky for the community.
While these were some of the uses of the Tzolk'in calendar, it couldn't be used for everything. For example, it didn't measure a solar year, the time it takes for the sun to make a complete cycle. Because of this, the Mayans needed a more accurate calendar to measure what we know as a full year.

The Haab Calendar and the Calendar Round

mayan calendar in stone

Mayan calendar carved in stone.
The Haab calendar is very similar to the Gregorian calendar that we use today. It's based on the cycle of thesun, and was used for agricultural, economic and accounting activities. Much like the Tzolk'in calendar, it's also comprised of uinals, and each day has its own hieroglyph and number. However, instead of using 13 uinals for 260 days, the Haab calendar has 18 uinals, giving it 360 days.
Astronomers noticed that 360 days wasn't enough time for the sun to make it through a full solar cycle. They argued that the calendar should follow the cycle as closely as it could in order to be as accurate as possible. However, Mayan mathematicians didn't see it that way. They wanted to keep things simple, in increments of 20, just like their math system. The astronomers and mathematicians finally agreed on the 18 uinals, with five "nameless days" called the wayeb [source: The Maya Calendar].
The wayeb, or uayeb, is considered one "month" of five days, and it's thought to be a very dangerous time. The Mayans believed the gods rested during this time, leaving the Earth unprotected. The Mayans performed ceremonies and rituals during the wayeb in hopes that the gods would return once again [source: The Mayan Calendar Portal].
While this calendar was longer than the Tzolk'in, the Mayans wanted to create a calendar that would record even more time. For this reason, the Tzolk'in and Haab calendars were combined to form the Calendar Round.
In the Calendar Round, the 260 days of the Tzolk'in calendar are paired with the 360 days and five nameless days of the Haab calendar. The two calendars are matched the same way the Tzolk'in day names and numbers are (think back to the illustration of the gears on the second page). This gives the Calendar Round 18,890 unique days, a time period of around 52 years.
Neither the Tzolk'in nor the Haab calendars measured more than one year. The Mayans wanted to record history, and decided to create a calendar that would give them a longer span than a year. At the time, the Calendar Round was the longest calendar in Mesoamerica. Historians of the time, however, wanted to record Mayan history for generations to come in the future. They wanted a calendar that would take them through hundreds, even thousands, of years (what we would describe as centuries and millennia). Enter the Long Count calendar.

Mayan calendar column

The Long Count Calendar

Unfortunately, the Long Count calendar isn't as simple as combining two calendars together to get new dates. It' s a little more complicated and abstract. In order to understand the Long Count, you first need to become familiar with a few terms:
  • One day - kin
  • 20 days - uinal
  • 360 days - tun
  • 7,200 days - katun
  • 144,000 days - baktun
The span of the Long Count calendar is called the Great Cycle, and lasts approximately 5,125.36 years [source: Jenkins]. To find the Lon g Count date that corresponds with any Gregorian date, you'll need to count the days from the beginning of the last Great Cycle. But determining when the last cycle began and matching that up to a Gregorian date is quite a feat. English anthropologist Sir Eric Thompson set out to determine the date, and he looked to the Spanish Inquisition for help.

Mayan pyramid

The Mayan pyramid in Chichen Itza was a physical calendar. Each side has a staircase with 91 steps and a platform, for a total of 365 steps. The dates inscribed into the pyramids all were written in the Long Count format.
What transpired was known as the Thompson Correlation. Events that occurred during the Inquisition were recorded on both the Mayan Long Count calendar and the Gregorian calendar. Scholars then gathered dates that matched on both calendars and compared them to the Dresden Codex, one of four Mayan documents that survived the Inquisition. This codex confirmed the date long thought by Thompson to be the beginning of the current Great Cycle -- August 13, 3114 B.C. [source: Mayan Long Count].
Now that we have the beginning date of the Great Cycle, let's put the Long Count into practice. We'll take a date that's familiar to many Americans -- July 20, 1969, the day Apollo 11 landed on the moon. In the Long Count calendar, this date is written as . You'll notice there are five number places in the date. Reading from left to right, the first place signifies the number of baktuns since the beginning of the Great Cycle. In this case, there have been 12 baktuns, or 1,728,000 days (144,000 x 12) since August 13, 3114. The second place relates to the number of katuns that have taken place. Then it continues on to the right with the number of tuns, uinals and kins

Mayan Numbers and Math

Mayan mathematical system-1-20

Mayan mathematical system-1-20
Along with their advances to the calendar -- like the Tzolk'in, the Haab, and the Long Count -- theMayans also created their own math system. They used a series of dots and bars to signify numbers. One dot equaled one unit while one bar equaled five units. A shell symbol signified zero.
In a system similar to the one we use now, the Mayans used place values to designate large numbers. However, the similarities end there.
Mayan math - 29
Mayan math - 27
Their place values are vertical, where ours are horizontal. For instance, we write the number 27 horizontally -- the number 2, then the number 7 to the right of it. The Mayans, however, would write 27 vertical ly -- their symbol for 7 (a line with 2 dots over it) would be on the bottom, and the symbol for 20 (a dot on the line above) would be directly over it. The same applies for other numbers, like 29.
reference :: science()howstuffworks()com

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