Mayan Calendar

The Maya developed a sophisticated calendar. The ritual calendar that developed in Mesoamerica used a count of 260 days. This calendar gave each day a name, much like our days of the week. There were 20 day names, each represented by a unique symbol. The days were numbered from 1 to 13. Since there are 20 day names, after the count of thirteen was reached, the next day was numbered 1 again. The 260-day or sacred count calendar was in use throughout Mesoamerica for centuries, probably before the beginning of writing.

Maya Day Names & Approximate Meanings

  • Imix Waterlily Chuwen Frog
  • Ik' Wind Eb Skull
  • Ak'bal Night Ben Corn stalk
  • K'an Corn Ix Jaguar
  • Chikchan Snake Men Eagle
  • Kimi Death head Kib Shell
  • Manik' Hand Kaban Earth
  • Lamat Venus Etz'nab Flint
  • Muluk Water Kawak Storm cloud
  • Ok Dog Ahaw Lord

The Maya also tracked a vague solar year in which they counted 365 days per year. Because they could not use fractions, the "quarter" day left over every year caused their calendar to drift with regard to the actual solar year. The 365-day year contained months were also given names. numbers 0-19 before they changed, so that the count goes Zero Pohp to 19 Pohp, then continues with Zero Wo.

Month Names and Approximate Meanings

  • Pohp Mat Yax Green ??
  • Wo ?? Zak White ??
  • Sip ?? Keh Red ??
  • Sotz' Bat Mak ??
  • Sek ?? K'ank'in ??
  • Xul Dog Muwan Owl
  • Yaxk'in New Sun Pax ??
  • Mol Water K'ayab Turtle
  • Ch'en Black ?? Kumk'u ??

To the eighteen regular months the Maya appended a special five-day month called Wayeb composed of 5 days which were considered unnamed and unlucky. Thus the days were counted: One Imix, Zero Pohp, Two Ik, One Pohp. When the thirteenth day was reached the next day was Thirteen Ben, Twelve Pohp; then One Ix, Thirteen Pohp, Two Men, Fourteen Pohp. After Seven Ahaw, Nineteen Pohp, the next day was Eight Imix, Zero Wo.

In addition, the Maya used special glyphs to indicate time periods, the kin represented one day. Winals are periods of 20-days which we now call a month. The Tun was a year of 360 days and the K'atun was a time period of 20 years of 360 days each. As we will see later, the K'atun ending was a special time period celebrated by the Maya. It has its parallel in the modern world, the period of time which we call a decade. The Maya also counted 400-year periods called Baktuns. The Maya used these time periods in a special day count which is now called the Long count.