Most historians think that 4 Ahau 8 Cumku (most likely August 11, 3114 bce) was the base date used by the Maya for the start of the “Long Count” and the first “Great Cycle,” a period of 5,125 years that ends on December 21, 2012 ce. This article was most recently revised and updated by Erik Gregersen, Senior Editor.
To indicate a date, the Maya calendar used five figures in this order: baktun, katun, tun, uin, kin. This would be written as, for example: 9.10. 19.5. 11 10 Chuen 4 Kumku, which translates as 9 baktuns (1,296,000 days), 10 katuns (72,000 days), 19 tuns (6,840 days), 5 uinals (100 days), 11 kins (11 days).
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 Maya calendar consists of several cycles or counts of different lengths. The 260-day count is known to scholars as the Tzolkin, or Tzolkʼin. The Tzolkin was combined with a 365-day vague solar year known as the Haabʼ to form a synchronized cycle lasting for 52 Haabʼ, called the Calendar Round.
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.
The Mayan calendar is an ancient system of three interlacing calendars : the Long Count, the Tzolkin and the Haab. The Long Count is an astronomical calendar . Each cycle is 2,880,000 days long. The Tzolkin is a 260-day calendar used for religious events, and the Haab is a 365-day solar calendar .
The length of a katun in days, 7,200, is 11 or –2 (mod 13).
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.
At the end of the 13th baktun, the Long Count calendar resets to 0.0. 0.0. 0. The ancient Maya reportedly believed that with each end of the Universal cycle, the Universe itself would “reset” by ending and starting over — not just the calendar — hence the doomsday interpretation.