Supplementary Series · Calendar Overview

THE LONG COUNT

The Long Count Date, also known as the Initial Series, in this instance 9.0.19.2.4 is read as 9 Baktuns (B1), 0 K’atun (A2), 19 Tuns (B2), 2 Winals (A3), 4 Kins (B3), and represents a span of time, in days, which has elapsed since day Zero of the current mythical Maya Creation; this corresponds to, we think, 13 August 3114 B.C. on our Gregorian calendar (which would be 8 September 3113 B.C., Julian, when including the Astronomer's year "0"). Each Kin is 1 day, each Winal is 20 days, each Tun is 360 days, each K’atun is 7200 days, and each Baktuns is 144000 days; notice, each column is 20 times greater that its column to the right (EXCEPT for the middle column), following a vigesimal (instead of decimal) scheme. All 5 columns range from 0 to 19 EXCEPT for the second column from the right, the Winal column, which ranges from 0 to 17; this makes the Tun, a Year of 360 days, the basis of the Long Count date, because 18 Winals of 20 Kins (days) each total the 360 Days Tun (year). You may think of the long count date as a sort of funny odometer where the higher order column clicks over by one when a total of 20 is reached in the lower order column (except for 2nd column, with a reach of 18 to click-over). From this, we can easily calculate that the event of 9.0.19.2.4 is dated 1,302,884 days from day zero, or somewhat over 3,567 tropical years. (Should you verify this last calculation, do not forget that the historian's calendar, Julian, HAS A YEAR ZERO between 1 A.D. and 1 B.C., while the Gregorian calendar HAS NO YEAR ZERO!!! It's crummy math; if you think about it, the Maya did better there when they called the first day, day zero!!).

Another peculiarity of this funny odometer, is that the left-most high order column, the Baktun column, clicks-over from 13 to 1; this one peculiarity would demand a paper of its own; for now, just be aware that 13.0.0.0.0 would be understood by our Western minds the same as 0.0.0.0.0, the beginning day ... the zeroth day ... the first 24 hours of time (mythical, Current Maya Era Creation, which followed the previous of many Maya Creation Eras). Schele delves into this concept, foreign to us, of "days completed" in two of her publications (Schele and Miller, 1986, p321, and Friedel, Schele and Parker, 1993, p63). The next day is 13.0.0.0.1 , the 19th day is 13.0.0.0.19, and the 20th day is 13.0.0.1.0; the Maya Long Count Calendar thus continues to increase, a day at a time, until, after exactly 143999 days (remember, 1 Baktun = 144000 days), we stand at L.C. date 13.19.19.17.19; the following day is 1.0.0.0.0. Voila! How come, you may well ask, did it click-over from 13 to 1 ?? Well, as they say, "That's another story, Sahib" (Kipling, 1896) or "That's another paper, Sahib" (Kihm, 1995).

Note that the "Long Count" was in use on Maya monuments roughly for the period 8.14.0.0.0 to 10.3.0.0.0, or about 317 A.D. to 889 A.D. (Teeple, 1930, p36); after this period, the Maya were so familiar with their calendar, that they only used the 52-year Calendar Round, somewhat like us saying that there were unusually severe hurricanes in '35 and in '95; when we talk about an event at the turn or the century, in '98, we know it was 1898 and not 1998; it's all in the context. One early Long Count Date known is on Tikal Stela 29 (292 A.D.) and arbitrarily heralds the beginning of the Maya "Classic Era" (Sharer, 1994, p127; Coe, 1992, p63). While this monument bears the earliest "MAYA" long count date, there are earlier Long Count Dates, on various monuments and artifacts fashioned by the precursors to the Maya; of note is a Stela in Izapan Style, at El Baul, Guatemala, dating back to 46 A.D. (Coe, 1994, p62), and Stela 2, at Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas, in Mixe-Zoquean tradition (single vertical column of bar-and-dot numerals) with a date of 7.16.3.2.13 (36 B.C.) (Sharer, 1994, p88).

THE TZOLKIN

The Tzolkin is the 260 day Maya ritual calendar, consisting of 20 Day Names which are prefixed by 13 numbers (1 through 13). The progression of this calendar is such that the combination 1 Imix, the first day, will not repeat for 260 days. 1 Imix is followed by 2 Ik'; 13 Ben is followed by 1 Ix, then 2 Men; from this, you can see that the date in our example, 2 Kan, is not the 2nd day of the Tzolkin; in fact, it is the 184th day of the Tzolkin (Aveni/Dunham, 1980, p149; Teeple, 1930, p89). The Tzolkin, by itself, has been recorded as early as 900-700 B.C., by the pre-Maya Olmecs (Justeson, 198x, p79); a bas-relief Tzolkin glyph, in San Jose Mogote, a Middle Pre-Classic Zapotec site (1200 to 400 B. C.) may be the earliest recorded writing in Meso-America found yet (Coe, 1994, p81). Tzolkin means, in the Yucatec dialect, "Count or Recitation of Days" (in Cholean, it is "Col K'in", and in Quiche, it is "Alah Q'ix" (Justeson, 198x, p77).

THE HAAB

The Haab, also known as the Vague Year, the Maya Civil Calendar, consists of 365 days; it is a "Vague Year" because it is not a truer Tropical Year of 365.242199 days; with no intercalation such as our Leap Day, the Seasons slipped, and with it went the Spring Equinox, First Point of Aries and all those good season-keeping amenities which we are accustomed to; nothing like having Christmas and Thanksgiving any time of the year!! The Haab Calendar, which in our example is 2 Yax, at A7, also consists of a "Month Name", of which there are 18, and then 1, prefixed by a number. Confusing? Let me clarify: the first 18 months have 20 days each, numbered from 0 to 19; the first day of the year is 0 Poph, the second day is 1 Poph and the 20th day is 19 Poph; this is followed by the next day, the first day of the second month, 0 Wo, also known as the "Seating of Wo". After 18 months of 20 days (total so far is 360 days) comes a short month of 5 days, named 0 Wayeb through 4 Wayeb (for a total of 365 days); the 5 Wayeb days, also known as the "dead Days" portended ill omens in the Maya luck value ... sort of like having 5 Friday-the-13th in a row!

To make it just a tad more complicated, Schele explains that the "0" day of the month, called the "Seating of that month", is really the last day of the previous month (Freidel and Schele, 1990, p81).

There is some evidence that the Haab Vague Year was in use by the Maya as early as 500-400 B.C.; the term "Haab" approximates the term for "year" in most Maya languages (Justeson, 198x, p77, p79).

THE CALENDAR ROUND The Maya concatenate the Tzolkin and the Haab, meshing the 260-day Tzolkin with the 365-day Haab; this results in a set of combinations which will not repeat for about 52 years and is known as the Calendar Round (Coe, 1992, p62); in our example, this would be "2 Kan 2 Yax". As an example, the four days leading to our Calendar Round date would be: 12 Imix 19 Ch'en, then 13 Ik 0 Yax, then 1 Ak'bal 1 Yax, then 2 Kan 2 Yax. A specific Calendar Round date, such as 2 Kan 2 Yax, or 4 Ahaw 8 Kumk'u will repeat once every 18,980 days; the first day of this 52-year Calendar Round, 1 Imix 0 Poph, was both a time of celebration of renewal and a relief that life did not end with the previous day. Since 260 times 365 is 94900, it is evident that not all combinations are possible (Harris & Stearns, p21); this fact is sometimes useful when deciphering damaged and eroded glyphs, where the date is in question. The Calendar Round, as a combination of the Tzolkin and the Haab, came into existence way before the rest of the calendrics were added to it, maybe as early as 500 B.C., in Oaxaca (Justeson, 198x, p79).

THE INITIAL SERIES

Now, let's put these three pieces together. When we add the Long Count with the Tzolkin and the Haab, we have what is known as an INITIAL SERIES DATE; in our example, it would be stated as "9.0.19.2.4 2 Kan 2 Yax". This date so immutable, that if you have the Long Count, you can mathematically deduce the Tzolkin and the Haab, and if you have pieces of the Long Count missing, but have the Tzolkin and the Haab, you can often figure out what the missing pieces are; great boon for the archeologist who may have to work with damaged dates. To gel the concept of these three intermeshing calendars, and to give some perspective and order to 5000 years of Maya Calendrics, consider the dates below, in Table 2, which span the current Maya Era, and just a tad beyond. All dates are chronological, Gregorian, with no year zero, and have been converted using the 584285 constant.

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