How Does the Mayan Calendar Work?

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Mayan calendarThe Mayan calendar has a long and deep history. But its premise is quite simple. Maybe not as simple as our Roman calendar, however. One of the defining characteristics of our Roman calendar is that it is based on various cycles. From minutes, to hours, days, weeks, months – we divide our calendar into increments that repeat on their own cycle.

For example, each hour has a first minute, each week has a Monday, each year has a first of January, and so on. However, it’s not every year that a Monday is also the first of January – this occurs only every seven years or so. The Mayan calendar works on a similar premise. As we examine the history of the Mayan calendar, we are given insight into its workings.

Roman vs. Mayan calendar – Working in Cycles

Mayan calendar tabletsYou might say that the Mayan calendar works the same as the Roman calendar, but with more complex, and overlapping cycles. A 52 year cycle on the Mayan calendar, for example, is called a Calendar Round. Now, similar to the way the first of January only occurs on a Monday every seven years or so, each day in the Mayan Calendar Round, referred to as a Long Count, is given a unique name based on a combination of various cycles.

Base 10 vs. Base 20

Unlike the Roman day, which is calculated using base ten, the Mayan Long Count is calculated using base twenty. What is base twenty? Just like our base ten system uses 10 numbers (zero through ten), the Mayan base 20 system uses 20 numbers (zero through twenty). So, while moving the decimal one spot in the Roman system changes our result by a factor of 10, moving the decimal in the Mayan system changes the result by a factor of 20.

Breaking Down the Mayan Long Count

The Mayan Long Count breaks down into the following units, where a kin is one day in the 52 year period:

  • 20 kin = 1 uinal
  • 360 kin = 19 uinal = 1 tun
  • 7200 kin = 360 uinal = 20 tun = 1 kactun
  • 144000 kin = 8000 uinal = 400 tun = 20 kactun = 1 bactun
  • 13 bactun = 1 Mayan epoch
  • 1 epoch ~ 5125.26 Mayan years

Subtracting from today, that puts the beginning of the current Mayan Long Count at August 11, 3114 BC, and the end at December 21, 2012 AD.

Does that mean the world will come to an end on December 21, 2012? We don’t think so but welcome your thoughts. Feel free to post your theories as a comment below on December 21, 2012, and how it relates to our world today. You can also read our article on the 2012 Planetary Alignment to find out why.

The Mayan 20 Day Period

The Mayan calendar is broken into 18 periods of 20 days each. They are outlined, along with their meanings, in the table below:

Duran Time Sahagun Time Fiesta Names English Translation
1. MAR 01 – MAR 20 1. FEB 02 – FEB 21 Atlcahualo, Cuauhitlehua Ceasing of Water, Rising Trees
2. MAR 21 – APR 09 2. FEB 22 – MAR 13 Tlacaxipehualiztli Rites of Fertility; Xipe-Totec
3. APR 10 – APR 29 3. MAR 14 – APR 02 Tozoztonli Small Perforation
4. APR 30 – MAY 19 4. APR 03 – APR 22 Huey Tozotli Great Perforation
5. MAY 20 – JUN 08 5. APR 23 – MAY 12 Toxcatl Dryness
6. JUN 09 – JUN 28 6. MAY 13 – JUN 01 Etzalcualiztli. Eating Maize and Beans
7. JUN 29 – JULY 18 7. JUN 02 – JUN 21 Tecuilhuitontli Feast for the Revered Ones
8. JULY 19 – AUG 07 8. JUN 22 – JUL 11 Huey Tecuilhuitl Feast for the Greatly Revered Ones
9. AUG 08 – AUG 27 9. JUL 12 – JUL 31 Miccailhuitontli Feast to the Revered Deceased
10. AUG 28 – SEP 16 10. AUG01 – AUG 20 Huey Miccailhuitontli Feast to the Greatly Revered Deceased
11. SEPT 17 – OCT 06 11. AUG 21 – SEPT 09 Ochpaniztli Sweeping and Cleaning
12. OCT 07 – OCT 26 12. SEPT10 – SEPT 29 Teotleco Return of the Gods
13. OCT 27 – NOV 15 13. SEPT 30 – OCT 19 Tepeilhuitl Feast for the Mountains
14. NOV 16 – DEC 05 14. OCT 20 – NOV 8 Quecholli Precious Feather
15. DEC 06 – DEC 25 15. NOV 09 – NOV 28 Panquetzaliztli Raising the Banners
16. DEC 26 – JAN 14 16. NOV 29 – DEC 18 Atemoztli Descent of the Water
17. JAN 15 – FEB 03 17. DEC 19 – JAN 07 Tititl Stretching for Growth
18. FEB 04 – FEB 23 18. JAN 08 – JAN 27 Izcalli Encouragement for the Land & People
18u. FEB 24 – FEB 28 18u.JAN 28 – FEB 01 nemontemi (5 day period) Empty-days (nameless, undefined)

Source: Wikipedia

About The Author:

Kimberly received her Bachelor of Arts in multimedia journalism from Simpson College. She is one of Exploring Life's Mysteries most experienced researchers. When reviewing products and services her natural curiosity helps her dig deep and unearth the truth behind the marketing. Her work has appeared in many notable brands, including The New York Times' Wirecutter, Reader's Digest, Forbes, People, Woman's World, and Huffington Post.

Kimberly grew up camping at the nearby lake with her family when she was a young girl. It wasn't until she met her husband that she rediscovered her love for the outdoors and began taking regular vacations to the national parks. Some of Kimberly's favorite memories include camping in a tent, hiking beautiful terrains, sitting around a campfire eating s'mores and sipping on a cold craft beer.

After three years of dating and exploring different regions of the U.S., Kimberly's husband proposed to her with the help of Exploring Life's Mysteries' online engagement content that she had researched and written. Not only was he able to design her ring himself, he was able to do so at great cost savings.

Kimberly likes starting her days with a warm cup of Nespresso, and she enjoys going for walks with her family and hound mix, Sally. In the evenings, she likes indulging in a glass of red wine and some dark chocolate while cozying up by the fire pit in her backyard.

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