The Maya Calendar Round

Today’s blog post builds off of a post from last month, on the Maya calendar. 

In the previous post we talked about the Long Count calendar that the Maya used to measure long periods of time from a starting point of 3114 BC. 

But what did they use for shorter lengths of time?

Our name for this “small-scale” measurement is the Calendar Round. 

The Calendar Round is actually a combination of two smaller calendars: the Tzolk’in and the Haab. The Tzolk’in measures a period of 260 days, while the Haab is the equivalent of our solar year and measures 365 days. These two calendars permutate to create a round.

Think of it this way. 

As a kid, did you ever sing in rounds at school or with friends? You would start singing a song, and then they would jump in a little bit later singing the same song (or maybe a different one) and the two songs would combine?

The Calendar Round works the same way. Each calendar runs at its own pace, measuring different quantities of days. Although both calendars measure different lengths of time, they do eventually meet up again. 

These planetary gear images do the best job of creating a visual of how this works: 

The Maya Calendar Round

This happens once every 52 years.

Unlike the Long Count, the Calendar Round is not tied to any specific starting point; it runs perpetually in a repeating cycle. 

This is actually very similar to our days of the week: every week runs from Sunday to Saturday, or Monday to Sunday, repeating over and over again. Although in the month of June the first Monday might be the 3rd, in the next month (July), the first Monday would be the 1st. The days of the week and the month combine to create different outcomes, just like the Calendar Round.

Ancient Mesoamerican people celebrated the end of this 52-year period with different rituals. In the Maya region, the end of one Calendar Round and the beginning of another would have been marked with the dedication of stone monuments, feasting and dance.

For the Aztec, the end of the Calendar Round was marked by something called the New Fire Ceremony. According to the records left in Spanish chronicles, all of the fires of the city of Tenochtitlan would be put out, leaving the world in darkness. A sacrifice would be performed at the top of the sacred Mount Tlaloc, and a fire would be kindled in the chest cavity of the sacrificial victim. The fire would then be used to light the torches of runners standing at the ready, and they would then begin the procession down the mountain, lighting other torches along the way. One by one, every fire in the city would be rekindled, and the next period of 52 years would begin.

Want to learn more about how the people of ancient Mesoamerica counted time and commemorated its passing?

Click here to be the first to know about my upcoming course on the Mesoamerican calendar system!

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