Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Calendar Series 5 of 6 -- Correlation

The day on which the current baktun of the Maya Long Count will end is -- as said before -- still something of a matter of debate. Depending on the book, the current baktun will end on December 21, 2012, on December 23, 2012 or on December 22, 2012. Why don’t these books agree?

Matching up -- or correlating -- the Maya’s Long Count and Calendar Round with our calendar is a study filled with a variety of gathered clues, disagreeing factions and even a plethora of mathematical programs used to aid calculation. Various theories are still employed for correlation and lines have been drawn as people are still trying to refine the match between our calendar and those of the ancient Maya.

The Main Correlations
Currently, two main correlations exist for matching up our calendar with the ancient Mayans’ calendars. These are the Spinden Correlation (also called the 11.16 Correlation) and the Thompson Correlation (also called the 12.9 Correlation, the Goodman-Martinez-Thompson Correlation or the GMT).

The Spinden Correlation fits very well with what archaeologists have found in the northern area of the Yucatan -- but nowhere else. The Thompson Correlation however – which places dates 260 years later than the Spinden Correlation -- fits better with what archaeologists have found everywhere else. Of the two correlations, the Thompson Correlation is more accepted in Maya studies.

However, a third notable correlation exists, created by George Vaillant. It is known as the 11.3 correlation. Some people who study the Maya keep an open mind about this correlation.

Short Count Correlation Clue
So far, it is not possible to directly make a correlation of the Long Count with our calendar. Instead, direct correlation is made with the Short Count, a shorter version of the Long Count, found in such places as books written after contact with the Spanish, such as the books of Chilam Balam. One such date correlation found in these books matches the Short Count date Katun 13 Ahau with January 6, 1542 -- the day the city of Merida was founded.

This is not a perfect clue however. There is still the issue of making the Long Count match the Short Count -- and the fact that a person using the Short Count dates assumes that it is still in sync with the Long Count.

Astronomical Clue
Post-Spanish contact information isn’t the only kind of clue found in old artifacts. Lunar eclipse information in the Dresden Codex is another piece of information people use to correlate the Mayan calendars to ours. People use this information by calculating backwards when lunar eclipses would have occurred.

Correlation Clues via Carbon Dating
Archaeologists have been collecting clues for date correlation while in the field. An example of this is the carbon dating of sapodilla lintels at Tikal. The first time they did this, the Spinden Correlation seemed to be right. However, when they tested the lintels again the Thompson Correlation seemed the most right, matching with 10 of the 12 wood samples they used.

Other Considerations
When making the attempt to correlate the calendars, there are several other things that a person must consider. One of these considerations is the ancient Maya concept of a day – which is understood to have gone from sunset to sunset and not midnight to midnight like with today. Also unlike our concept of a day, the Maya did not give the day its number until it was over.


"The Ancient Maya", 5th Edition; Michael C. Coe;

Dartmouth College: Izapa: Birthplace of Time: Correlation

“The Ancient Maya”; Robert J. Sharer, Loa P. Traxler; 2006

Friday, February 24, 2012

Calendar Series 4 of 6 -- Long Count

The Long Count is a linear timekeeping method of the Maya. Unlike the Haab and Tzolkin the Long Count does not start over. Instead, it has a starting date -- the date of the current world’s creation -- and keeps increasing forever. In a way it is like how we count the years, although we do it in terms of AD and BC.

By using the Long Count, the ancient Maya were able to keep track of dates in a larger context than they could with just the Calendar Round. This makes them different from other cultures that just used the Calendar Round, such as the Aztecs.

The oldest Long Count dates thus far discovered in the Maya world are located in the southern area and date from the Late Preclassic period. From this time, it seems that use of the Long Count spread to the Maya lowlands by the Classic period.

Set Up of the Long Count
Parts of the Long Count include:

Kin -- this is equal to one day.
Uinal -- this is equal to 20 kin. 18 uinals made a tun.
Tun -- a 360-day period made of 18 uinals (or uinics**).
Katun -- a period of 20 tuns which equals 7,200 days.
Baktun -- a period of 20 katuns or 144,000 days.

The Maya also had larger periods time, but they were not used in the Long Count. These are:

Pictun -- a period of 20 baktuns.
Calabtun -- a period of 20 pictuns.
Cinchiltun -- a period of 20 calabtuns.
Alawtun -- a period of 20 cinchiltuns.

Most of the names are not the original names the Maya used. They are names that they were given in more recent times.

Transliterating the Long Count
The Long Count is written in our number system as a series of numbers with periods in between them For example: means 8 baktuns, 0 katuns, 0 tuns, 0 uinals and 0 kin. is 1 katuns, 3 tuns, 3 uinals and 7 kins.

Long Count in Terms of Inscriptions
The Long Count was used at the beginning of inscriptions. Dates introducing inscriptions went like this: first came an introductory glyph that was larger than the other glyphs. In the middle of this glyph was a glyph of the patron god of the Haab month in which the Long Count date took place.

Then came the Long Count date, after which came the Tzolkin date. Following the Tzolkin date was a glyph possibly depicting a Lord of the Night, then a glyph that could be a title of the Lord of the Night and 6 glyphs on the moon date in connection to the Long Count date. Finishing up this long date sequence was the Haab date.

Cultural Significance
The ancient Maya believed that the current world began on the last day of the last baktun:, a date on which 4 Ahau of the Tzolkin and 8 Cumku of the Haab fell. People have tried to figure out when this was, and the most commonly accepted date is 11, 12, or 13 August 3114 BC. A common projection for the finishing of the current baktun is December 21, 2012.

In the Maya culture, the completion of a baktun was a significant event -- the completion of a “great cycle”. It may have even been a time to celebrate for the people who saw it completed. In this way it is like how the year 2000 was for us.

**In Classic Mayan writings, either word was used. However, more often they used uinic. In Colonial times, writers used uinal more.

“A Forest of Kings”; Linda Schele, David Friedel; 1990

Southern Polytechnic State University: Mayan Myths -- Mayan Calendar

“The Ancient Maya”; Robert J. Sharer, Loa P. Traxler; 2006

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Maya Calendar Series 3 of 6 -- Calendar Round

As mentioned in the overview article, the Calendar Round is the combination of the cyclical Tzolkin and Haab calendars that starts over every 52 years. Like with the Haab and Tzolkin calendars by themselves, a common way to visually explain the Calendar Round is by representing the calendars as interlocking gears.

With other Mesoamerican cultures, the Calendar Round was the longest length of time they recorded. This was not the case with the Maya, however, who also used the non-repeating Long Count -- which could be used to count beyond the 52 years of Calendar Round.

How Calendar Round Dates are Expressed
The Haab and Tzolkin dates are written today as a pair of dates. For example, the day on which the Tzolkin date 13 Ahau and the Haab date 8 Xul both fall is simply referred to as 13 Ahau 8 Xul. And once it occurs, a pairing of dates won’t occur again until 52 years have gone by.

Within the 52-year cycle, the calendars complete their own cycles at rates independent of each other. The Haab repeats 52 times and the Tzolkin repeats 73 times before the two calendars can meet up again to begin a new Calendar Round.

Year Bearer
The Tzolkin date that fell on 0 Pop of the Haab was called the “year bearer.” The “characteristics” of a Tzolkin date that occurred on 0 Pop were thought to influence all the days of the Haab.

With the way that the calendars were set up, only 4 named days out of the 20 named days of the Tzolkin could ever occur on 0 Pop. In the Classic period, the 4 days -- known as “year bearers” -- were Akbal, Lamat, Ben and Etz’nab*. Taking into account the 13 numbers that are part of the Tzolkin, 52 unique Tzolkin dates could occur as “year bearers” (13 x 4 = 52). After 52 years, this sequence of year bearers started over.

Here’s a sample of the pattern of year bearer dates as they occurred: 1 Akbal, 2 Lamat, 3 Ben, 4 Etz’nab, 5 Akbal, 6 Lamat, 7 Ben, 8 Etz’nab, 9 Akbal, 10 Lamat, 11 Ben, 12 Etz’nab, 13 Akbal, 1 Lamat…

*These four days sometimes varied by region, as in the center of the Maya Lowlands, the days were Ik, Manik, Eb and Caban in the Classic Period. By the time of the Conquistadors, the days had become Kan, Muluc, Ix and Cauac.

“A Forest of Kings”; Linda Schele, David Friedel; 1990

“The Ancient Maya”; Robert J. Sharer, Loa P. Traxler; 2006

“Yaxchilan: The Design of an Maya Ceremonial City” Carolyn Elaine Tate; 1992

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Maya Calendar Series 2 of 6 -- Haab

Author’s note: I will be putting on pictures of the glyphs soon.

The word Haab (or “vague year”), is the modern name for the ancient Maya’s sun-based calendar used for knowing when to plant crops. This calendar is made of 20 “months” (uinals) of 18 days (18 times 20 is 360), plus a group -- or “month”-- of 5 days at the end of the year. Altogether, this makes the Haab a 365-day calendar.

The “Months”
Months are referred to by their names in Yucatec Mayan: Pop, Uo, Zip, Zotz’, Zec, Xul, Yaxkin, Mol, Ch’en, Yax, Zac, Ceh, Mac, Kankin, Muan, Pax, Kayab, Cumku and finally Uayeb -- the 5 day period whose name may mean “resting of the year”. Each month was ruled by a deity who was its patron.

How The Haab Worked
Unlike our calendar, instead of each month being numbered 1 through 30, 1 through 31 or 1 through 28 (or 29), the days of each Haab month were numbered 0 through 19. For example, the days of month of Uo would be written 0 Uo, 1 Uo, 2 Uo and so on through 19 Uo -- and then the next month would begin (0 Zip). The same process was used for Uayeb, in that the 5 days were numbered 0 through 4.

The first day of a month could be referred to as the “seating” of the month -- so, for example, 0 Cumku is the “seating” of Cumku. The particular influence of a month began on this day of “seating”. This also means that although 0 Pop was the beginning of Pop -- the first month of the Haab -- 1 Pop was still the Haab’s new year’s day.

Uayeb had a special consideration to the ancient Maya. It was considered an unlucky period of days.

Consideration: Drift
As is known, the year is actually about one-quarter of a day (6 hours) longer than 365 days. People working in the Maya field of archaeology have found that some ancient Maya seem to know this fact, though no one seemed to have adjusted the Haab to express this.

“A Forest of Kings; Linda Schele, David Friedel; 1990

“The Ancient Maya”; Robert J. Sharer, Loa P. Traxler; 2006

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Maya Calendar Series 1 of 6 -- Tzolkin

Author’s note: I will be putting on pictures of the glyphs soon.

The sacred calendar used by the Maya -- today called the Tzolkin -- is a calendar composed of 20 days and the numbers 1 through 13. Each day had a name and was paired with a number in an interlocking cycle that repeated every 260 days (13 x 20 = 260).

So far as it is known, the Tzolkin is not based on any natural occurrences, like the sun-based Haab. Various ideas exist about it though -- there is an idea that it is the length of time it takes for a baby to form and be born.

Day Names
The 20 named days for the Tzolkin are Imix (water lily), Ik (wind), Akbal (night), Kan (corn), Chicchan (snake), Cimi (death), Manik (hand), Lamat (Venus), Muluc (water), Oc (dog), Chuen (monkey), Eb (tooth), Ben (reed), Ix (jaguar), Men (eagle), Cib (soul), Caban (earth), Etz’nab (flint), Cauac (storm cloud) and Ahau (lord).

Each day of the Tzolkin was represented by a glyph wrapped around a “cartouche”. People studying Mayan glyphs have found that the Maya would use different glyphs for the same day.

How it Works
The Tzolkin starts 1 Imix, 2 Ik, 3 Akbal, 4 Kan -- and so on until you get to 13 Ben. Then the numbers start over: 1 Ix, 2 Men and so on until 7 Ahau -- then the day names start over but the numbers keep going: 8 Imix, 9 Ik, 10 Akbal, 11 Kan, 12 Chiccan, 13 Cimi -- then the numbers start over again with 1 Manik, 2 Lamat, 3 Muluc, etc... This cycle of repeating numbers and days eventually starts over after 260 days-- beginning another Tzolkin.

Today, sometimes people explain this calendar, like the Haab and Calendar Round, with an image of inter-locking gears. The numbers 1 through 13 make one gear and the day names make up the other gear.

And what was the Tzolkin used for? It was used for prophecy making and as a calendar of ceremonies. One Maya people -- the Kaqchikel Maya -- once used the Tzolkin to name their children.

"The Ancient Maya"; Robert J. Sharer, Loa P. Traxler; 2006

"A Forest of Kings"; Linda Schele, David Friedel; 1990

"Hands-On History World History Activities"; Garth Sundem, Kristi A, Pikiewicz; 2006

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Maya Calendar Series -- Overview

Author’s Note: This is part one of a series on the Maya calendars. Each section in this post will eventually have a separate post which I will hyperlink to its respective header.

In Mesoamerica -- possibly in Izapa during the 1300s BC -- two calendars developed, a sacred calendar and a calendar based on the sun. These calendars spread to peoples including the Mixtecs, Teotihuacanos and Zapotecs as well as the ancient Maya, who used the two calendars in an interlocking system.

Of the peoples that used it, the ancient Maya are believed to be the people who refined the system the most. Other than the two calendars, they also kept other “calendars”.

The Sacred Calendar: Tzolkin
The sacred calendar -- which was used for religious purposes -- is known today as the Tzolkin. This calendar has an interlocked cycle of 13 numbers and 20 days that started over after 260 days (13 x 20 = 260). Each of the 20 days had a name.

The Sun-Based Calendar: Haab
The sun-based calendar -- which was used for more everyday purposes -- is known today as the vague year or the Haab, and was like our calendar. Made up in total of 365 days, the Haab contains 18 months, each having 20 days, plus a group of 5 days (18 x 20 + 5 = 365). Each month of the Haab, like our calendar (the Gregorian calendar), has a name.

Calendar Round: The Interlocking System
The Calendar Round is the name that people who study the Maya use to describe the interlocking system of the Tzolkin and the Haab. The cycle produced by combining these two calendars repeats every 52 years.

Long Count
The Long Count is a system of units for keeping track of how many days had passed since the creation of the current world. Something only the Maya used, unlike the Haab and Tzolkin, the Long Count does not repeat, but continues to go up in number. Its smallest unit was a day from which it progressed to larger and larger units. Currently, the Long Count’s start date is thought to be sometime in 3114 BC.

Other Calendars
The ancient Maya also used some other cycles, and worked them into their timekeeping. Some of these cycles are the cycle of Venus, an 819-day count centered on the god K’awiil and the cycle of the moon as well as the cycle of the Nine Lords of Night.

Through the years, various people tried to find a date or dates to match our calendar with the ancient Mayan Calendar Round and Long Count. So far, a match known as the Gordon-Martinez-Thompson correlation (or GMT correlation) is the most commonly accepted as the right match. However, not everyone thinks it is as accurate as it ought to be.

"A Forest of Kings"; Linda Schele, David Friedel; 1990

Dartmouth College: Chapter 6 The Long Count: Astronomical Precision

"The Ancient Maya"; Robert J. Sharer, Loa P. Traxler; 2006