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The Maya calendar is based on sets of interlocking cycles.  Sacred numbers (4, 9, and 13) play key roles, as well as the numbering system based on units of 20.  Methods of timekeeping include:  260-day Tzolk'in calendar;  365-day Vague Year Haab' calendar; 52-year Calendar Round; Long Count; Short Count; 819-day Count.  Feeling confused? 

There are many components of the calendar and a brief overview does not do it justice.  But just to give you an idea, here we go.  If you want to understand it in more detail, take a look at the links below. 

The Tzolk'in calendar, the 260-day sacred calendar, was used as a guide for rituals and ceremonial life .  Patterns of ceremonial live, prophecy, and name giving were founded on this sacred calendar.  It had a duration of 260 days (260 kins) which corresponds with the gestation period of human childbearing.  This ritual calendar was set by thirteen numbers and twenty day names  (13 x 20).

The Tzolk'in calendar: 13 numbers cycle around 20 day names = 260 days

Haab'  Solar Calendar, 365 days
There are 19 months in the Haab' calendar which followed the solar year of 365 days.  Eighteen of the months have 20 days and the final month called Uayed (Wayeb), had five days.  The five nameless days of Wayeb were times of fear and was considered a dangerous, ill-omened period.  This calendar was used for seasons and agriculture.  Months are associated with the earth, maize seed, and dry seasons. 


The Calendar Round integrates the Tzolk'in and Haab' calendars.  To completely cycle through the entire system of this Calendar Round it takes 52 years.  To express a date from the Calendar Round four parts are necessary: the Tzolk'in day number; the Tzolk'in day sign; the Haab' day number;  the Haab' month sign.  For example, 12 Akbal 2 Pop.  The problem with the Calendar Round was that it repeated itself every 52 years.  There was no way to tell in which 52-year period a specific date took place.  So the Long Count system was introduced. 


The Long Count was used to express a continuous record of time.  The beginning of the current cycle of time began with the Maya date of 4 Ahaw 8 Kumk'u (August 11, 3114 B.C.E.).  The duration of this fourth cycle of creation is 13 bak'tuns, after which time the count will return to zero and begin the fifth creation. 

Most of you have heard of the prophecies of 2012Well, the current Maya Long Count cycle, with a duration of  5,125 and 1/4 years will end on December 21, 2012.  It is believed that a new cycle will begin.

Units of time in the Long Count: 

  • K'in - the day

  • Winal and Tun - month and year (18 winals = 1 tun)

  • K'atun - decade (endings of k'atuns  were designated times for important rituals)

  • Bak'tun - 144,000 days (20 k'atuns = 1 bak'tun)

Sites with detailed information on the Maya calendar.