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.
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