The Classic Maya civilization of southern Mexico, Guatemala and Belize flourished in the fourth through tenth centuries AD (according to orthodox history). Today, not much is known about the Mayas or their neighbours in Central/South America; unfortunately, the early Christian conquerers destroyed most of the ancient records of the native American cultures.
The Maya numbering system used a vigesimal (based on 20) place-value number system, analogous to our decimal place-value number system.
The Classic Maya civilization was unique and left us a way to incorporate higher-dimensional knowledge of time and creation. By tracking the movements of the Moon, Venus, and other heavenly bodies, the Mayas realized that there were cycles in the Cosmos. From this came their reckoning of time, and a calendar that accurately measures the solar year to within minutes.
For the Maya there was a time for everything, and everything had it's place in time. The priests could interpret the heavens and calendar. As the result they could control the daily activities of the populace. Knowing when to plant, when to harvest, the rainy and dry seasons, and so on gave them total power and control. Their comprehension of time, seasons, and cycles was immense.
The Maya understood 17 different calendars based on the Cosmos. Some of these calendars go back as far as ten million years and are so complex that an astronomer, astrologer, geologist, and mathematician would be needed just to work out the calculations. The Mayas also made tables predicting eclipses and the orbit of the planet Venus.
The Tzolk'in is the most important and influencial of the calendars. The other calendars that are most important to beings of earth are the Haab and the Tun-Uc.
Archaeologists claim that the Maya
began counting time as of year 3114 B.C.
Glyphs and names of the Kin or Maya days:
The Maya numbering system is as follows:
Glyphs and names of the Winal or Maya months :
Maya calendar basics
The Mayas used three different calendar systems (and some variations within the systems). The three systems are known as the Tzolk'in (the sacred calendar), the Haab (the civil calendar) and the long count system.
The Tzolk'in is a cycle of 260 days
and the Haab is a cycle of 365 days.
The "calendar round" is like two gears that intermesh, one smaller than the other. One of the "gears" is called the Tzolk'in, or sacred round. The other is the Haab, or calendar round. The smaller wheels together represent the 260-day sacred round; the inner wheel, with the numbers 1 to 13, meshes with the glyphs for the 20 day names on the outer wheel. A section of a large wheel represents part of the 365-day year - 18 months of 20 days each (numbered 0-19). The five days remaining at year's end were considered evil. In the diagram, the day shown is read 4 Ahua 8 Kumku. As the wheels turn in the direction of the arrows, in four days it will read 8 Kan 12 Kumku. Any day calculated on these cycles would not repeat for 18,980 days - 52 years.
Thus the Mayas could not simply use a Tzolk'in/Haab date to identify a day within a period of several hundred years because there would be several days within this period with the same Tzolk'in/Haab date.
The Mayas overcame this problem by using a third dating system that enabled them to identify a day uniquely within a period of 1,872,000 days - approximately 5,125.36 solar years. To do this they used a vigesimal (based on the number 20) place-value number system, analogous to our decimal place-value number system.
The Mayas used a pure vigesimal system for counting objects but modified this when counting days. In a pure vigesimal system each place in a number is occupied by a number from 0 to 19, and that number is understood as being multiplied by a power of 20. Thus in such a system:
2.3.4 = 2*20*20 + 3*20 + 4*1 = 864
When counting days, however, the Mayas used a system in which the first place (as usual) had a value of 1, the second place had a value of 20, but the third place had a value not of 400 (20*20) but of 360 (18*20). (This may have been due to the fact that 360 is close to the length of the year in days.) The value of higher places continued regularly with 7,200 (20*18*20), 144,000 (20*20*18*20), etc. In such a system:
220.127.116.11 = 1*20*18*20 + 3*18*20 + 5*20
+ 7*1 = 8,387
A Maya long-count date is a modified vigesimal number (as described above) composed of five places; for example, 18.104.22.168.0, and interpreted as a count of days from some base date. There are many long count dates inscribed in the stellar and written in the codices. Calculation of the decimal equivalent of a long count yields a number of days. This is regarded as a number of days counted forward from a certain day in the past. It is the number of days since the day 0.0.0.0.0. The obvious question is: What day was used as the base date? This question has two aspects: (1) What day was used by the Mayas as the base date? (2) What day was that in terms of the Western calendar? We shall return to these questions below.
Just as we have names (such as week) for certain periods of time, the Mayas had names for periods consisting of 20 days, 360 days, 7,200 days, etc., in accord with their modified vigesimal system of counting days. A day is known as a kin. Twenty kins make a uinal, 18 uinals a tun, 20 tuns a katun and 20 katuns a baktun. Thus we have:
1 kin = 1 day
The numbers at the five places in the long count are thus counts of baktuns, etc., as follows:
baktuns . katuns . tuns . uninals . kin
Thus, for example, 22.214.171.124.1 denotes a count of 9 baktuns, 15 katuns, 9 tuns, no uinals and 1 kin, or in other words, 9*144,000 + 15*7,200 + 9*360 + 0*20 + 1*1 days, or 1,407,201 days. It is a count of days from the Maya base date of 0.0.0.0.0.
Most of the long count dates which occur in the stone inscriptions have a baktun count of 9. The period 126.96.36.199.0 through 10.0.0.0.0, the period of the Classic Maya, is now thought by scholars to coincide with the period (approximately) AD 436 through AD 829. There are, however, some strange anomalies. Morley deciphers two long count dates (found at Palenque) as 188.8.131.52.0 and 184.108.40.206.6 (14 days apart) which are some 2,794 solar years prior to 220.127.116.11.0. Since there is no evidence that the Mayas existed before about 500 B.C., what could these early long count dates possibly be referring to?
We would expect that the next higher unit after the baktun would consist of 20 baktuns, and it appears there was such a unit, called a pictun. However, no long count date occurs with a baktun count of more than 12, except that 18.104.22.168.0 occurs. A widely-accepted school of thought holds that in the Maya long count system 22.214.171.124.0 marks the beginning of a new cycle, and so is equivalent to 0.0.0.0.0. In this view, 13 baktuns make up a great cycle or, Maya era, of 13*144,000 = 1,872,000 days (approximately 5125.37 solar years).
The date 0.0.0.0.0 is equal to year
Please NOTE that the above information is just a brief explanation of the Maya calendar. More information can be found at libraries.
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