Today’s Date is:
The Maya Calendar is one of the most fascinating calendars, devised by the Mayans in Central America, comprising various elements that combine to form a series of continuous cycles. These elements are called the Tzolk’in , the Haab and the Long Count. The Tzolk’in is a 260-day count which was combined with the Haab, a 365-day approximation to the solar year forming a synchronised cycle of 52 Haab, also known as the Calendar Round. The Calendar Round is still used by many groups in the highlands of Guatemala.
Another calendar was used to track dates over longer periods of time. This is the Long Count, a count of days since a mythological starting point.
The tzolkʼin calendar combines twenty day names with the thirteen day numbers to produce 260 unique days. It is used to determine the time of religious and ceremonial events and for divination. Each successive day is numbered from 1 up to 13 and then starting again at 1. The day names cycled through the 20 names shown in the following table, with an example of their associated glyphs:
- The sequence number of the named day in the Tzolk’in calendar.
- The name of the day in the Tzolk’in calendar. The names used here use the orthography as recorded from 16th-century Yukatek Maya accounts, which was widely used until recently.
- An example glyph for the named day. Several different forms for these are recorded; the ones shown here are “cartouche” versions typical of carved monumental inscriptions.
Some systems started the count with 1 Imix, followed by 2 Ik, 3 Akbal, etc. up to 13 Ben. The day numbers would then start again at 1 while the named-day sequence continues onwards, so the next days in the sequence are 1 Ix, 2 Men, 3 Cib, 4 Caban, 5 Etznab, 6 Cauac and 7 Ahau. With all twenty named days used, these now began to repeat the cycle while the number sequence continues, so the next day after 7 Ahau is 8 Imix. The repetition of these interlocking 13- and 20-day cycles therefore takes 260 days to complete (that is, for every possible combination of number/named day to occur once).
The Haab is a 365-day cycle roughly corresponding with the solar year. The year is split into 18 “months” of 20 days each, with a period of five days at the end, called Uayeb.
Each day in the Haab calendar was identified by a day number in the month followed by the name of the month. Day numbers began with a glyph translated as the “seating of” a named month, which is usually regarded as day 0 of that month. So the first day of the first month would be 0 Pop, then 1 Pop, 2 Pop and so on until 19 Pop, followed by 0 Uo, 1 Uo, 2 Uo and so on.
A Calendar Round date combines the Tzolk’in and Haab dates. Each date will repeat after 52 Haabʼ years or 18,980 days, a Calendar Round. For example, the current creation started on 4 Ahau 8 Kumkʼu. When this date recurs it is known as a Calendar Round completion.
Not every possible combination of Tzolkʼin and Haabʼ can occur. For Tzolkʼin days Imix, Kimi, Chwen and Kibʼ, the Haabʼ day can only be 4, 9, 14 or 19; for Ikʼ, Manikʼ, Ebʼ and Kabʼan, the Haabʼ day can only be 0, 5, 10 or 15; for Akbʼalʼ, Lamat, Bʼen and Etzʼnabʼ, the Haabʼ day can only be 1, 6, 11 or 16; for Kʼan, Muluk, Ix and Kawak, the Haabʼ day can only be 2, 7, 12 or 17; and for Chikchan, Ok, Men and Ajaw, the Haabʼ day can only be 3, 8, 13 or 18.
As the Calendar Round repeats every 52 years, a more refined method of dating was needed in order to specify dates over longer periods and to record history accurately. For this purpose, Mesoamericans used the Long Count calendar.
The smallest unit in the count is a kin, equal to one day. There are 20 kin in a uinal, 18 uinal comprise a tun, 20 tun are a katun, and 20 katun are a baktun. The complete structure of the levels in the count is shown in the table below.
|1 Uinal||20 Kin||20|
|1 Tun||18 Uinal||360||1|
|1 Katun||20 Tun||7,200||20|
|1 Baktun||20 Katun||144,000||394|
|1 Piktun||20 Baktun||2,880,000||7,885|
|1 Kalabtun||20 Piktun||57,600,000||157,704|
|1 Kinchiltun||20 Kalabtun||1,152,000,000||3,154,071|
|1 Alautun||20 Kinchiltun||23,040,000,000||63,081,429|
The Long Count calendar identifies a date by counting the number of days from the Mayan creation date 4 Ahau, 8 Cumku (August 11, 3114 BCE in the proleptic Gregorian calendar or September 6 in the Julian calendar -3113 astronomical dating).
Since the Long Count dates are unambiguous, the Long Count was particularly well suited to use on monuments. The monumental inscriptions would not only include the 5 digits of the Long Count, but would also include the two tzolkʼin characters followed by the two haabʼ characters.
Misinterpretation of the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar was the basis for a popular belief that a cataclysm would take place on December 21, 2012. December 21, 2012 was simply the day that the calendar went to the next baktun, at Long Count 188.8.131.52.0.