Living in Honduras or Guatemala as a foreigner is sometimes hard, mostly fun and never boring. This Blog is about more than just the oddities of my years in the not-so tranquil, cobble-stoned town of Copán Ruinas and, more recently, Antigua Guatemala. Hence Serendipity, the gift of finding without seeking…

Monday, April 9, 2012

Truths and Untruths about the Maya Calendars

There are, in my opinion, few things I know a little about that are as complicated as the Maya calendars.

I definitely don’t have a knack for math, and I guess that’s why. I’m only just able to understand why the period of 52 years is sacred to the Maya. The reason is that the Calendar Round is repeated every 52 years (=18,980 days). A calendar Round is a combination of a Tzolk’in date and a Haab date. Tzolk’in is the lunar calendar of 260 days, while Haab is a solar calendar of 365 days.
Are you with me so far?

This duration of 52 years can be explained because the least common multiple of 260 and 365 is 18,890 which equals 73 Tzolk’in years or 52 Haab years.

Obviously I copied this information from Wikipedia, because my mind can barely grasp a concept such as least common multiple. What baffles me more than anything is that the Maya figured this out without the use of Wikipedia!!!

So please don’t ask me anything about the Maya calendars.

However, what I can tell you plenty about is the symbols used in the two calendars mentioned above. I love their glyphs and use them a lot (A LOT) in my artwork, shamelessly riding the wave of the 2012 hype (hey, a girl gotta eat!!!). And I’m not the only one. You just Google images for “maya calendar” and you’ll find about 11,900,000. (Don’t be fooled by Google’s advice: “Did you mean: mayan calendar”, because “Mayan” refers to the Maya languages, while “Maya” is the adverb for anything else that is Maya!)

The funny thing is that about half of these images don’t show the Maya calendar, but the Aztec calendar. Aztec is a club Snooki and friends like to frequent in Jershey Shore, but the name also refers to a certain ethnic group from Central Mexico that dominated large parts of Mesoamerica from the 14th to the 16th century. They knew the Maya, they even conquered a few Maya cities here and there, but they are not the same as the Maya. The Aztecs are to the Maya as the Americans are to Canadians. Or the Belgians to the Dutch.

Aztec! Aztec! Aztec! Aztec Calendar Stone

The Aztec “stole” the Maya calendar and made it their own. The names and symbols are different, but the system is basically the same as the Maya Tzolk’in and Haab calendars. The big difference is that the Maya had another calendar that was widely used, the Long Count, designed especially for referring to long periods of time. Whereas the Aztec had to start counting all over after every 52 years, the Maya continued counting since their point zero, August 11, 3114 BC, and will continue to count for ever more. One of those larger periods, the 13th bak’tun, ends on December 21, 2012. The Mayas did not started their counting at Day Zero, but at Since the Long Count too is a cyclical calendar, on December 21, after 5125 years, it will be at again, and a new round will start. Not the end of the world, simply the beginning of a new round of 13 bak’tuns. 
Bottom line, it is very silly to use an image of a 52 year-long Aztec calendar while referring to the “Maya prophecy that predicts the end of the world”. It’s actually quite funny how many “Maya experts” are using an image of the Aztec calendar for publicity purposes. 
Maya Calendar Stone with year bearer???

The second important thing I learned about the Maya calendars is that they work together as if interlaced together as different sized wheels. This is a great way to visualize how they work. However, the Maya calendars are, as far as I know, NEVER EVER depicted like that on any ancient Maya monument, mural or painted ceramics. The circular image of the Maya calendar (either with the Tzolk’in day glyphs or Haab month glyphs) is very popular and sells well as pendant, coaster, T-shirt design and mouse pad. You see it everywhere, with in the middle a miserable looking Maya carrying a day glyph on hs back. I guess this refers to the year bearer. The year bearer is one of four Tzolk’in days that happen to be the first of every Haab year. They quite literally carry that day on their back. But I have never seen an actual image of it. It’s most likely that it is the creation of a smart artisan and that his design has been copied over and over, turning it into something “authentic Maya”.
The New Original Ancient Maya Calendar!!!
I figured I could do the same thing, so I stole the idea of a circle with all the Tzolk’in glyphs but instead of the year bearer, I put the glyph for birth in the middle, referring to the “birth of a new era of the Long Count”, or something. So if this goes viral and becomes the new ancient Maya calendar, you know where it comes from! (Wink!)

And to end those rambling thoughts on the Maya calendars, let me remind you that for only $5 I’ll design you your own Tzolk’in day glyph! It will protect you till the End of Time, guaranteed!!!

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