The Maya Long Count Date consists of three calendars.
In Maya dating, the date reads ‘longest to shortest’ from left to right. Beginning on the very left, the ‘Long Count’ calendar date is written first, then the ‘Tzolkin calendar date’ and then lastly, the ‘Haab calendar date’. Meaning, the Maya written date starts with the longest calendar’s count on the left, and then the ‘Tzolkin date’ is written, and then the ‘Haab date’.
For example, using the Maya calendar numbering system, a typical date would read as:
“188.8.131.52.0 / 4 Ahau / 8 Kumku”
- “184.108.40.206.0” is the Long Count calendar date,
- “4 Ahau” is the Tzolkin calendar date, and
- “8 Kumku” is the Haab’ calendar date.
Here’s how the Long Count date works:
Maya long count dates are written out from left to right with five numbers which are separated by four periods, written as such: 220.127.116.11.0
The dating order is: the year is marked to the far left with the day being counted to the far right.
The ancient Maya represented these number values with their own beautifully designed hieroglyphs instead of using actual numerals, as in these examples:
The number on the right-most position is called the “k’in,” which counts single days, for example: 18.104.22.168.1, 22.214.171.124.2, 126.96.36.199.3, etc..
The Maya counted the days to 20.
The “k’in” counts up to 19 days and then goes back to zero, with counting picked back up by the next position, called the “uinal” (winals). This is the Maya equivalent of a month.
So counting up from the day 188.8.131.52.19 would become 184.108.40.206.0.
Each “uinal” is a block of 20 days (k’in). After an ‘uinal’ is added to the count, the ‘k’in’ position then picks back up at 0 and again counts up to 19 before adding another ‘uinal’ on the 20th count. So the day after 220.127.116.11.0 would be 18.104.22.168.1 and then 22.214.171.124.2, all the way up to 126.96.36.199.19 until finally adding an ‘uinal’ to make 188.8.131.52.0.
The ‘uinals’ count upward as well.
While the Maya generally used a vigesimal (base-20 counting system) in everything they did, the Long Count is really a mixed base-20 and base-18 system that represents the number of days since the start of Maya creation of the World. To make this work, they modify this slightly for the ‘uinals,’ which only counts up to 17 before rolling over at the count of 18 to the third position (middle), which is called the “tun.”
Each “tun” is 18 blocks of 20 days, which equals 360 days total.
A tun is approximately a year by the solar calendar. The ‘tuns’ in turn count up to 19 and then at the count of 20, rolls over into the fourth position from the right, which are called, “k’atuns.”
A k’atun is 20 blocks of 360 days, which adds up to 7,200 days, or just under 20 years.
The k’atun counts up to 19, before reaching 20 and rolling over into the final digit of the Long Count, called the “b’ak’tun.”
If the word, “b’ak’tun,” sounds familiar, it’s because on the modern date of December 21, 2012 on our calendar marked the end of the “13th b’ak’tun” of the Maya Long Count Calendar.
In other words, it’s the day the Maya long count date will read 184.108.40.206.0.
On December 22, 2012 the Maya Long Count Calendar read as 220.127.116.11.1.
Each “b’ak’tun” is 144,000 days long, which is just under 400 years.
To the ancient Maya, the 13th b’ak’tun represented a full cycle of creation according to their beliefs.
The Maya never made any apocalyptic prophecies about the “End of the World” or anything like that. The Long Count is an astronomical calendar that was used to track long periods of time, which the Maya called the “universal cycle.” Each of these cycles are 2,880,000 days long, which is about 7885 solar years.
The beginning of the 13th b’ak’tun was on August 11, 3114 BC on the Gregorian calendar or September 6, 3114 BC on the Julian calendar.
The 13th b’ak’tun marks the creation of the World for human beings, according to Maya Mythology.
The ancient Maya believed that it was on this “Creation Date” that “Raised-up-Sky-Lord” caused three stones to be set by associated gods at “Lying-Down-Sky, First-Three-Stone-Place.” Because the sky still lay on the primordial sea, it was black, the setting of the three stones centered the cosmos which allowed the sky to be raised and revealed the sun. The creation of the World inhabitable by humans.
The belief that the end and start of a calendaric cycle is going to trigger some event still inspires a myriad of prophesies about the end of the world. However, there is nothing to worry about. The final episode in the Maya Creation Myths concluded with the creation of humans with no further destruction/recreation cycles. Even though the Maya started their calendar based on their belief of the creation of the World, their calendar was nothing more than a means to record the date and events.
The Maya had the capacity to count millions of years into the future, but rarely used units that were larger than “b’ak’tuns.”
Here is a list of the Maya Long Count b’ak’tuns compared to modern dating:
This article is an excerpt from the book: Kane, Njord. “Chapter 16 – Maya Society, Sacred Colors.” The Maya : The Story of a People. 2nd ed. Yukon: Spangenhelm, 2016. ISBN: 978-1943066032 Used by permission from the author and publisher exclusively for use on readicon.com only.
- Kane, Njord. The Maya : The Story of a People. 2nd ed. Yukon: Spangenhelm, 2016. ISBN: 978-1943066032
- Schele, Linda, and David Freidel. “A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya.” New York: Harper Perennial. 1990.
- Freidel, David; and Linda Schele and Joy Parker (1995). Maya Cosmos: Three thousand years on the shaman’s path. New York: William Morrow. ISBN: 978-0688140694.
- Thompson, J. Eric S. (1929). “Maya Chronology: Glyph G of the Lunar Series”. American Anthropologist, New Series 31 (2): pp.223–231. ISSN 0002-7294.
- Thompson, J. Eric S. (1971). Maya Hieroglyphic Writing, an Introduction. 3rd edition. Norman.
- “Clarifications: The Correlation Debate.” Excerpt from Tzolkin: Visionary Perspectives and Calendar Studies (Borderlands Science and Research Foundation, 1994, pages 31-36):
- John Major Jenkins. “Tzolkin: Visionary Perspectives and Calendar Studies.” Borderland Sciences Research Foundation; First Printing edition (1994). ISBN-10: 0945685165.
- The Story of Writing: Alphabets, Hieroglyphs & Pictograms by Andrew Robinson Credit: Photo by Columbia Pictures.
by Njord Kane © 2016 Spangenhelm Publishing
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