Eight decades in the past, the earth was meant to close. At minimum that is what some interpreters of the ancient Maya calendar considered. They mentioned that the Maya Lengthy Depend calendar seemed to be working out of times, and would close on Dec. 21, 2012. A variety of doomsday eventualities, asteroids that includes prominently amid them, were being forecast.

Of class, the winter season solstice of 2012 came and went with minor to exhibit for it. The Maya calendar just ticked over to a new b’ak’tun, equal to about 394 decades, and the earth continued.

The obsession with the Maya calendar and doomsday makes feeling from just one standpoint. Following all, Maya religious observances did depend seriously on their incredibly precise calendar. But the 12 months 2012 possible never figured into Maya eschatology, the examine of close moments — that just one was all us.

The Maya made a specific method of timekeeping based mainly on astronomical measurements that enable them time agricultural occasions, religious observances and a lot more. Their richly specific calendar has drawn archaeological curiosity for decades, as both equally an illustration of Maya ingenuity and for the insights into their culture it consists of.

The calendar was intimately interwoven with their religion and cosmology, lending it an aura of mystical perception that resonates nowadays. Non secular although it might appear to be, the genuine origin of the calendar is firmly grounded in science.

Finding Time in the Stars 

The Maya were being great astronomers — they erected full buildings to serve as observatories and designed specific tables cataloging the actions of the moon, Mars and other planets. Maya astronomical calculations even properly dated a 1991 solar eclipse. Observations like these formed the basis for their calendar the celestial clock furnished a reasonably precise means of measuring the passage of time. 

maya observatory (Credit: Daniel Schwen/CC BY-SA 4.0/Wikimedia Commons)

(Credit: Daniel Schwen/CC BY-SA four./Wikimedia Commons)

The Maya created use of many interlocking calendars, although they possible did not invent them. There are solid similarities among Maya calendars and those used by older Central American civilizations like the Olmec. The Maya surface to have just expanded on these.

The Maya used two different calendars that counted off times, the haab and the tzolk’in (although the latter is a expression fashionable archaeologists bestowed on the calendar the Maya use many different names for it). The haab consists of eighteen months of 20 times every, with a further month of 5 times known as the Wayab, for a complete of 365 times. The Wayab was considered a risky time, and the Maya would make offerings and conduct religious observances to ward off ill-fortune. The tzolkin has 260 times, and consists of 20 named times and 13 figures, with every combination of name and range happening at the time.

The Maya even now use these two calendars nowadays to tutorial their agricultural year and to dictate the timing of religious observances. Associates of their culture have been keeping rely of the times for nicely over two thousand decades — an unbroken string of timekeeping.

Madrid Codex astronomer

Illustration of a Maya astronomer with their eye outstretched. (Credit: Community Area/Wikimedia Commons)

As with the Maya of nowadays, the calendar held immense simple value to their forebears. It authorized them to work out when to begin planting, harvesting and other agricultural actions every 12 months, and knowledgeable the elaborate plan of rituals and ceremonies to several deities that were being at the heart of their culture.

Substantially of the Maya’s knowing of time came from the motion of celestial bodies. Like us, the passage of the Sunlight knowledgeable the duration of a day and the time among solstices was a 12 months. But the Maya also tracked the actions of other bodies with excessive precision. The several surviving parts of Maya producing comprise tables cataloging the actions of planets and almanacs that tried to make forecasts for the future based on them.

The Dresden Codex, the oldest surviving guide penned in the Americas, consists of tables charting the actions of Venus, Mars and the Moon. The Maya also calculated the prevalence of lunar eclipses based on observations and tracked the movement of Jupiter and Saturn. The regular movement of the planets possible formed the basis for substantially of the Maya’s religious calendar, as they aligned significant occasions with the position of the planets in the night time sky.

Dresden Codex pp.58-62 78

(Credit: Community Area/Wikimedia Commons)

Keeping Time

The haab and tzolk’in calendars are used collectively to produce a cycle known as the Calendar Round, which lasts about 52 decades, or eighteen,980 times. That range is the minimum popular numerous of 260 and 365, or the to start with stage at which the two calendars meet up with. Following just one Calendar Round is completed, a further begins.

Since the intertwined haab and tzolk’in repeat each 52 decades, the Maya essential a further way to keep track of extended intervals of time. This led them to develop a totally different method of time-keeping, the Lengthy Depend.

The Lengthy Depend is a foundation-20, or vigesimal range method, with just one exception. As with our individual foundation-ten range method, there’s possible a simple rationalization for this. We have 5 fingers on every hand, and two palms — we chose to rely utilizing our fingers, even though the Maya used fingers and toes.

The foundation device of the Lengthy Depend is a day, known as a kin. 20 kin is a uinal (or winal), eighteen uinal is a tun, 20 tun is a k’atun and 20 k’atun is a b’ak’tun. The odd eighteen rely is possible to bring a tun closer to a solar 12 months — just one tun is 360 times, somewhat than the four hundred it would be if counting by 20.

The Maya wrote Lengthy Depend dates from left to correct, starting with the major range. For illustration, Dec. 21 is penned as 13..eight.two.two, or 13 b’ak’tun, k’atun, eight tun, two uinal and two kin. That rely also enables us to trace back to the exact 12 months the Maya believe our present earth began on: 3114 B.C., about 600 decades right before the Pyramids of Giza were being created.

The Maya created a habit of producing the date, as measured by the Lengthy Depend, on numerous of their inscriptions. For this rationale, archaeologists can tell precisely when significant occasions transpired in the Maya earth. For illustration, we know the effective metropolis of Tikal was conquered by an alliance of the rival towns Caracol and Calakmul in A.D. 562. Tikal would establish victorious over the close by metropolis of Dos Pilas in the next century, in 672, only to be defeated 5 decades later by La Corona, an ally of Calakmul. The coronations of new kings, as nicely as the close of k’atuns and other auspicious dates, were being also recorded on stela.

The Maya sometimes mentioned dates in conditions of their distance from a further date. Some calculations utilizing this variety of notation surface to have been used to refer to occasions terribly much back in the earlier. A single date corresponds to an celebration some ninety million decades right before A.D. 761, a further stretches back even further, to four hundred million decades.

Finds like these, writes archaeologist Clive Ruggles, expose the broader significance of the Maya’s use of calendars. Developing these types of prolonged blocks of time, he suggests, authorized the Maya to conceive of record on a grand scale.