The Mayan Calendar

We now live in the fourth world, according to the Popol Vuh, the sacred Maya book of creation myths and predictions, and the first three creation attempts have failed. The book predicts that this age will end on December 21, 2012. Doesn't that signify the start of the apocalypse? Not necessarily. New Age scholars have a wide range of theories on what exactly will occur or what the Maya had in mind. Some say it is nothing less than the end of the world, while others are more optimistic and foresee a day of positive human evolution. Hotels around Copán, the Bay Islands, and major Maya ceremonial sites in Guatemala are already booking up for this date and are planning all sorts of special events.

The origin of the date comes from the Mayan Calendar, a time-tracking system so accurate that other Mesoamerican societies, including the Aztecs and Toltecs, adopted it. Even today, many Chortí Maya communities in the Copán Valley and elsewhere in Central America do not follow the standard Gregorian calendar like the rest of society.

The Maya Calendar is a system of several calendars that can be combined in varying ways. Astronomical calculations in each calendar predict the cycles of the sun, moon, and Venus, which indicated how the Maya had a sophisticated knowledge of mathematics and astronomy unknown to their old-world contemporaries. Each day has a hieroglyphic representation composed of numbers and pictographs, many of which can by found at most ancient Maya sites.

The calendar uses three different dating systems -- the Tzolkin, Haab, and Long Count:

  • The Tzolkin Calendar: This calendar of 260 days was created by multiplying 20 by 13. The numerical system was founded on a base-20 system (as opposed to our own base-10 system). Some think this came from the number of human fingers and toes, and that 13 symbolized the number of levels in the Upper World, where the gods lived. Another theory is that 260 days came from the approximate length of human pregnancy, and that midwives developed the calendar to coordinate with expected births. The Maya believed that each day of the Tzolkin had a character that influenced events. A priest read the calendar to predict a baby's future, and children were often named according to the day they were born.
  • The Haab Calendar: The Haab was the Maya solar calendar made up of 18 months of 20 days each, plus a period of 5 unnamed days at the end of the year known as the Wayeb, which adds up to a 365-day cycle. It was thought that if an event occurred one day during a specific Haab cycle, a similar event was likely to occur on that same day in the next Haab cycle.
  • The Long Count Calendar: This calendar can be used to describe any date in the future and was used only by priests and royalty. It tracked longer periods of time, and was based on the number of days since a mythical starting point (Aug 11, 3114 B.C.). In yet another layer of complexity, the Tzolkin combines with the Haab to form a synchronized cycle of 52 years, called the Calendar Round.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.