The Lunar Glyphs in the Maya Calendrics

Supplemental Series

Robert Kihm



Calendar Overview

The Long Count
The Tzolkin
The Haab
The Initial Series
Calendar Round

Correlation Constant

The Supplementary and Lunar Glyphs

The Lords of the Night Glyphs G and F
Glyphs Z and Y
The Moon Age Glyphs – Glyphs D and E
The Moon Number – Glyphs C and X
The Moon Type Glyphs – Glyphs B and A





The calendrics of the Maya, that is, their calendars, have been studied by scholars since the turn of the twentieth century, and most , but not all of its glyphs are well understood. The purpose of this short paper is to explore that portion of their calendar which expresses the status of the moon for the date recorded; this follows the observation that early cultures often invent lunar calendars before solar calendars, that substantial attention was paid to the state and status of the moon, and that the Maya placed great importance in carefully meshing the Lunar status within their elaborate day-count and day-keeping system.

My sketch of Yaxchilán Lintel 21, after Eric Von Euw (1977), is the beginning of a Maya text which describes, carved in stone, a significant event enacted by an ancestor of the royal ruler Bird-Jaguar; my sketch comprises only of the date portion of the text, a specific day in A.D. 454. This specific date of the event is read at Glyph Blocks B1, A2, B2, A3, B3, A4 and then A7 as 2 Kan 2 Yax, and is generally accepted to be 16 October 454 A.D. The "Supplementary Glyphs", most of which consists of lunar notations, are that portion sandwiched between glyphs A4 and A7; they are, left to right, the five glyphs B4, A5, B5, A6 and B6. Note the order of reading of glyphs, which is two Glyphs Blocks, left to right, in the first row, then two Glyphs Blocks in the second row, etc.; when the bottom of column B is reached, the text would continue with the next two columns, not drawn here, at C1 and D1, and so forth. Block A1 is called the ISIG Initial Series Introductory Glyph), and it announces that following it is the date; it is adorned with the patron deity of the month of the event, in this case the month Yax.

Let us spend a few paragraphs on the basics of the Maya calendar before forging on to the core of this paper, the even more exciting Lunar glyphs, here at B4 through B6. This calendrics recap is a review of Dawn Jenkins’ document "Maya Astronomy" which appeared in the Fall 1995 OTAA issue of "Asteroid Belt", where she treats in more detail these calendric specifics. The content of this article can be found on the World Wide Web on the Maya Astronomy Page.

This particular set of calendrics is typical of Classic Maya monumental inscriptions, with a generalized format of: ISIG at A1, Long Count Date ( at B1 through B3, Tzolkin Day Number and Day Name (2 Kan) at A4, and Haab Month (2 Yax) at glyph A7. More on the Supplementary and Lunar Glyphs at B4 through B6 later. I should emphasize that while this is a typical order and format, many texts from other times and locations, while retaining the order, may greatly differ in representation of Glyph Blocks; you will not always find the Haab Month Name at A7.

As you go through the glyphs in the accompanying drawing, keep in mind the Maya vigesimal (base 20) numbering system. All Maya numbers, and all whole numbers for that matter, may be represented with a combination of three characters: a dot with a value of 1, a bar with a value of 5, and a Zero, with extreme importance as a "place holder", often pictured as a football-shaped element, or, as here, pictured as a sideways trefoil at the left side of Glyph Block A2. Thus, glyphs at B1 is 9 of something, and glyphs at B2 is 19 of something; at glyph A2, we have a trefoil, and neither dots nor bars, and so we have zero of something.

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