Of all the ancient calendar systems, the Maya and other Mesoamerican systems are the most complex and intricate. They used 20- day months, and had two calendar years: the 260- day Sacred Round, or tzolkin, and the 365 – day Vague Year, or haab. These two calendars coincided every 52 years.
The Long Count is an astronomical calendar, with each universal cycle lasting 2,880,000 days. The beginning date of the Long Count calendar has been determined to be August 11, 3114 B.C. in the Gregorian calendar, or September 6 in the Julian calendar. The date marks the creation of human beings, according to the Maya.
The Aztecs referred to the 365 and 260 – day cycles as xiuhpohualli (year count) and tonalpohualli ( day count) respectively. The veintena was called metztli (moon), and the five unlucky days at the end of the solar year were called nemontemi.
In the Maya Long Count, the previous world ended after 13 bʼakʼtuns, or roughly 5,125 years. The Long Count’s “zero date” was set at a point in the past marking the end of the third world and the beginning of the current one, which corresponds to 11 August 3114 BC in the proleptic Gregorian calendar.
The current practice of referring to the current baktun as ” baktun 13” or “thirteenth baktun ” may stand, even though it is properly the fourteenth baktun .
Allen Christenson, professor of comparative arts and letters and an expert on Mayan society, explained that although the Maya couldn’t predict the exact day of an eclipse , they could predict eclipse seasons by noting when Venus rose above the horizon just before sunrise.
Mysterious Decline of the Maya From the late eighth through the end of the ninth century, something unknown happened to shake the Maya civilization to its foundations. One by one, the Classic cities in the southern lowlands were abandoned, and by A.D. 900, Maya civilization in that region had collapsed.
The Maya used the vigesimal system for their calculations – a system based on 20 rather than 10. This means that instead of the 1, 10, 100, 1,000 and 10,000 of our mathematical system, the Maya used 1, 20 , 400, 8,000 and 160,000 .
The calendar was based on a ritual cycle of 260 named days and a year of 365 days. Taken together, they form a longer cycle of 18,980 days, or 52 years of 365 days, called a “ Calendar Round.”
The tzolkʼin (in modern Maya orthography; also commonly written tzolkin) is the name commonly employed by Mayanist researchers for the Maya Sacred Round or 260-day calendar . The word tzolkʼin is a neologism coined in Yucatec Maya , to mean “count of days” (Coe 1992).
Braswell: [Besides the ritual 260-day calendar ] the Maya calendar had a solar year of 365 days , they did not have leap days or leap years , like we do. The Maya dating didn’t have leap years at all, so every year they went off by approximately a quarter of a day.
Scholars have suggested a number of potential reasons for the downfall of Maya civilization in the southern lowlands, including overpopulation, environmental degradation, warfare, shifting trade routes and extended drought. It’s likely that a complex combination of factors was behind the collapse.
Where did the Maya live? Mayan civilization occupied much of the northwestern part of the isthmus of Central America, from Chiapas and Yucatán, now part of southern Mexico , through Guatemala , Honduras , Belize , and El Salvador and into Nicaragua.