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Unexplained / Ancient civilizations / The Maya and Incs / Aztec and Mayan Calendars / 


Aztec and Mayan Calendars

Aztec Calendar

The Aztec Calendar was basically similar to that of the Maya. The ritual day cycle was called Tonalpohualli and was formed, as was the Mayan Tzolkin, by the concurrence of a cycle of numerals 1 through 13 with a cycle of 20 day names, many of them similar to the day names of the Maya.

Where the Aztec differed most significantly from the Maya was in their more primitive number system and in their less precise way of recording dates. Normally, they noted only the day on which an event occurred and the name of the current year. This is ambiguous, since the same day, as designated in the way mentioned above, can occur twice in a year. Moreover, years of the same name recur at 52-year intervals, and Spanish colonial annals often disagree as to the length of time between two events. Other discrepancies in the records are only partially explained by the fact that different towns started their year with different months. The most widely accepted correlation of the calendar of Tenochtitlan with the Christian Julian calendar is based on the entrance of Cortez into that city on November 8, 1519, and on the surrender of Cuauhtzmoc on August 13, 1521. According to this correlation, the first date was a day 8 Wind, the ninth day of the month Quecholli, in a year 1 Reed, the 13th year of a cycle.

The Mexicans, as all other Meso-Americans, believed in the periodic destruction and re-creation of the world. The "Calendar Stone" in the Museo Nacional de Antropologia (National Museum of Anthropology) in Mexico City depicts in its central panel the date 4 Ollin (movement), on which they anticipated that their current world would be destroyed by earthquake, and within it the dates of previous holocausts: 4 Tiger, 4 Wind, 4 Rain, and 4 Water.

The Aztec calendar kept two different aspects of time; tonalpohualli and xiuhpohualli. Each of these systems had a different purpose.

The tonalpohualli was the 'counting of days.' It originated by ancient peoples observing that the sun, crossed a certain zenith point near the Mayan city of Copan, every 260 days. So this first system is arranged in a 260-day cycle. These 260 days were then broken up into 20 periods, with each period containing 13 days, called trecenas. Each period was given the name of something that was then shown by a hieroglyphic sign, and each trecena was given a number 1-13. Each trecena is also thought to have a god or deity presiding over each of the trecena. They kept these counts in tonalamatls, screenfold books made from bark paper.

The Aztecs used this as a religious calendar. Priests used the calendar to determine luck days for such activities as sowing crops, building houses, and going to war.

The xiuhpohualli was the 'counting of the years.' This calendar was kept on a 365-day solar count. This was also the agricultural and ceremonial calendar of the Aztec state. It was divided into 18 periods, with each period containing 20 days, called veintenas. This left five days that were not represented. These were called "nemontemi." These were the five transition days between the old and the new year, and were considered days of nothing. This was a time of festivals. People came to the festivals with their best clothes on, and took part in singing and dancing. This is also when the priest would preform sacrifices, most of these sacrifices were human, but others were preformed on animals and fruit.

The solar year was the basis for the civil calendar by which the Mexicas (Aztecs) determined the myriad ceremonies and rituals linked to agricultural cycles. The calendar was made up of 18 months, each lasting 20 days. The months were divided into four five-day weeks. The year was rounded out to 365 days by the addition of the five-day nemontemi (empty days), an omnious period marked by the cessation of normal activities and general abstinence. The correlation of dates in the Gregorian calendar is uncertain, although most authors on the subject affix the beginning of the Aztec year to early Febuary. A variety of sources were consulted in developing the following chart of some of the ritualistic activities associated with each month.

Many of the Aztecs' religious ceremonies, including frequent human sacrifices, were performed at the Great Temple, located in the center of their capital city of Tenochtitlan.

Every 52 years the tonalpohualli and the xiuhpohualli calendars would align. This marked what was known as a mesoamerican "century." Every one of these centuries was marked by xiuhmolpilli - Binding Up of the Years or the New Fire Ceremony.

This was a festival that lasted 12 days and included fasting as a symbol of penitence. At the beginning of this festival all the lights in the city were extinguished - people let their hearth fires go out.

Then on midnight of the 12th day of the festival, a prisoner was taken to the priest. The priest would watch in the night sky for the star of fire to reach the zenith. Once it did, the priest would remove the heart of this man, and replace it with a piece of wood, that was laid on a piece of turquoise. This is where the priest would start the new fire that would once again light the city.

The tonalpohualli (count of days) was the sacred almanac of the Mexicas. This ritual calendar was registered in the tonalamatl (book of days), a green-fold bark paper or deerskin codex from which a priest (called tonalpouque) cast horoscopes and predicated favorable and unfavorable days of the cycle. The almanac year comprised of 260 days, each of which was assigned a date by intermeshing one of 20 day-signs, represented graphically with a gylph, and a number from 1 to13, represented by dots so that no two days in the cycle could be confused. The almanac year was thus made up of 20 13-day weeks, with the first week beginning on 1-Crocodile and ending on 13-Reed, the second week running from 1-Ocelot to 13-Deaths' Head and so on. A god or goddess was believed to preside over each day-sign.


The Maya Calendar

The Classic Mayan civilization was unique and left us a way to incorporate higher dimensional knowledge of time and creation. By tracking the movements of the Moon, Venus, and other heavenly bodies, the Mayans realized that there were cycles in the Cosmos. From this came their reckoning of time, and a calendar that accurately measures the solar year to within minutes.

For the Maya there was a time for everything and everything had it's place in time. The priests could interpret the heavens and calendar. As the result they could control the daily activities of the populace. Knowing when to plant, when to harvest, the rainy and dry seasons, etc. gave them total power and control. Their comprehension of time, seasons, and cycles was immense.

The Maya understood 17 different Calendars based on the Cosmos. Some of these calendars go back as far as ten million years and are so difficult that you would need an astronomer, astrologer, geologist, and a mathematician just to work out the calculations. They also made tables predicting eclipses and the orbit of the planet Venus.

The calendars that are most important to beings of earth are the Haab, the Tun-Uc and the Tzolk'in. The Tzolk'in is the most important and the one with the most influence.

The Haab is based in the cycles of earth. It has 360 + 5 days, totalling 365 days. The Haab uses 18 months with 20 days in each month. There is a 19th month called a Vayeb and uses the 5 extra days. Each month has it's own name/glyph. Each day uses a sacred sun/glyph.

The Tun-Uc is the moon calendar. It uses 28 day cycles that mirrors the women's moon cycle. This cycle of the moon is broken down into 4 smaller cycles, of 7 day each. These smaller cycles are the four phases of moon cycle.

The Tzolk'in is the Sacred calendar of the Maya and is based on the cycles of the Pleiadies. The cycle of the Pleiadies uses 26,000 years, but is reflected in the calendar we are using by encompassing 260 days. It uses the sacred numbers 13 and 20. The 13 represents the numbers and 20 represents the sun/glyphs. The Tzolk'in has four smaller cycles called seasons of 65 days each guarded by the four suns of Chicchan, Oc, Men and Ahau. There are also Portal days within the Tzolkin that create a double helix pattern using 52 days and the mathematics of 28. This sacred calendar is still being used for divination by the traditional Maya all over the Yucatan, Guatemala, and Belize, and Honduras.

The Tzolkin calendar was meshed with a 365-day solar cycle called the "Haab". The calendar consisted of 18 months with 20 days (numbered 0-19) and a short "month" of only 5 days that was called the Wayeb and was considered to be a dangerous time. It took 52 years for the Tzolkin and Haab calendars to move through a complete cycle.

Archaeologists claim that the Maya began counting time as of year 3114 B.C. This is called the zero year and is likened to January 1, 1 AD. All dates in the Long Count begin there, so the date of the beginning of this time cycle is written 0-0-0-0-0. 13 cycles of 394 years will have passed before the next cycle begins, which is in year 2012 A.D. (13-0-0-0-0).



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Comment from milogardner for Aztec and Mayan Calendars
13 in Mayan calendars began by base 13 numbers recorded 0-12 in the Season Table, pages 65-69, of the Dresden Codex ... and other base 13 almanacs in the Madrid Codex ... calendar rounds resulted from four points of view ...
Comment from Owen Thomas for Aztec and Mayan Calendars
Thank you for the explanations. I want to know the source for 13 as used in the calendar count of 13X20=360 days in the sacred calendar. Have you any refer3ences?
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