The Mayan Calendar system was a collection of multiple calendars that were used not only by the Mayans but also by various other civilisations of Mesoamerica.
A lot of features of the Mayan calendar were laid down as early as 5th century BC and developments took place over the subsequent centuries.
Broadly speaking, there were two main parts of the calendar. One was the religious calendar while the other one was the solar calendar. Additionally, there was a third calendar known as the Long Count.
Mayans had a very advanced knowledge of astronomy and keenly observed the movements of the celestial bodies Read more about the Calendar Predictions >>
The Mayan apocalypse refers to a number of different theories which ties the end of the Mayan Long Count calendar to an apocalypse Read more about the Mayan Apocalypse >>
Essential features of the Mayan calendar were laid down as early as 5th century BC.
Several features of the calendar are similar to the systems that were already in use by earlier Mesoamerican civilizations including the Zapotec and the Olmec.
It was also used by subsequent civilizations such as the Aztecs. Thus the history of the calendar system extends over most of the history of the Mesoamerican civilizations.
There were two main purposes of the Mayan calendar system.
The first one, the sacred calendar was used to keep track of religious festivals and calculate days for them.
This function was performed by the 260-day calendar called Tzolkin.
The other function was the calculation of ordinary days and years and this was called the solar calendar, known as Haab.
There were different types of calendars which combined to form the system of Mayan calendar.
However, the two most important types were Haab and Tzolkin , the Mayan sacred calendar and the solar calendar.
There is another type of Mayan calendar that records the longest span of time. This one is called the Long Count and marks the number of days that have passed since a mythological creation date of August 11 or 13 of 3114BC.
The Mayan solar calendar was called Haab and it was made up of 18 months of 20 days each.
In addition to this, there were 5 extra days which were considered ominous by the Mayans. According to the Mayan beliefs, ill-willing gods could unleash disastrous events during these five days and thus they remained inside their homes.
A special number was associated with each day in the calendar and a symbol was used to signify that day.
The Mayan sacred calendar was called Tzolkin and it consisted of 260 days in total.
The system of Tzolkin consisted of 20 day names combined with 13 day numbers. This calendar was used to keep track of the time of religious festivals and ceremonies.
Just like Haab, this calendar also had symbols associated with each day. The Aztecs who came to power after the Mayans had a similar religious calendar which was called Tonalpohualli in the Nahuatl language.
The Long Count was an important calendar type in the Mayan calendar system.
The most important aspect of this calendar was that it identified a day by counting the number of days passed since an ancient mythological creation date of August 11 or 13 of 3114 BC.
Mesoamerican numerals were used for dates on the Long Count and the calendar was widely used on Mayan monuments.
Date setting on Mayan calendar was a rather complex task and involved Tzolkin and Haab as well as the Long Count.
Date is identified by counting the number of days since the creation date.
A typical long count date format in the Mayan calendar system would be: Baktun.Katun.Tun.Uinal.Kin. Here, kin refers to one day, uinal refers to 20 days, tun refers to 360 days, katun refers to 7,200 days, and baktun refers to 144,000 days.
Various prophecies of apocalypse are often associated with Mayan calendar due to its division of time into various world eras.
According to Mayan literature, the world is destroyed after every era and newly created by the gods for the next era.
The first three eras were composed of 5,125 years.
There were three Mayan calendars known as the Haab, the Tzolkin, and the Long Count.
The first one was the usual 365-day calendar which kept track of ordinary days and was based on the rotation of earth around the sun. It consisted of 18 months of 20 days each plus 5 extra days.
The second one, Tzolkin, was the scared Mayan calendar composed to keep track of religious festivals and ceremonies. It consisted of 20 periods of 13 days each.
The Long Count was an astronomical calendar used for tracking of long time periods. It tracked total days in what the Mayans called “universal cycle”.
The Mayan Calendar round was made from the interweaving of the sacred and the solar calendars, Tzolkin and Haab.
Any combination of day from one calendar with day from the other calendar did not repeat itself until 52 periods of 365 days had passed.
The figure of 52 was considered important and according to the Mayan beliefs, any person who reached the age of 52 attained special wisdom. Thus the two calendars on the calendar system were related with each other and completed a Mayan “century” of 52 years.
The same mechanism was used to form the Aztec calendar system which was heavily influenced by the Mayans.
Mayan Calendar system was a combination of various calendars that were used by different civilizations of Mesoamerican region.
Various elements of this calendar system was already being used by previous civilizations and continued to be used by civilizationals to come such as the Aztecs.
The calendar system had three calendars known as Haab, Tzolkin, and the Long Count.
Haab was the solar calendar for the tracking of ordinary days while Tzolkin was the sacred calendar for tracking of religious festivals and ceremonies.
Both these calendars were similar to the ones used by the Aztecs, with the difference of symbols used for the days.
The third calendar measured the number of days in each “universal cycle”. The current universal cycle, according to this calendar, began in August 11 or 13 of 3,114BC and ended on 21 December 2012.