Why would you want to build a Mayan calendar? The Gregorian calendar is the calendar of choice these days. However, you may want to know how to create this ancient calendar if you’re an educator, history buff, or you want to keep track of important dates for festivals or religious purposes. But here’s how to build a Mayan Calendar.
I have reasons for loving and making calendars for my own benefit. We all have friends or work with employees from all over the world — and it’s fun to tell someone to enjoy their holiday. How about our beloved Calendar Team in India? I love all India holidays — and symbols. Maybe it’s the artist in me — I don’t know. I love to keep track of all kinds of events and holidays.
If you’ve ever wanted to build your own Mayan calendar, then here’s exactly how you can build your own.
How the Maya Calendar Works
Before you get started, you need to understand how the Mayan calendar works. The main reason is that it’s not just one calendar, such as the calendar you use on a daily basis. Instead, the Mayan calendar is made up of three separate corresponding calendars: the Tzolkin, Haab, and Long Count. As explained on Time and Date, “Each of them is cyclical, meaning that a certain number of days must occur before a new cycle can begin.”
These calendars are used simultaneously with the Tzolkin and the Haab identifying the days, but not years. When the wheels work together, the Long Count date comes first. It’s followed by the Tzolkin date and concludes with the Haab date. “A typical Mayan date would read: 126.96.36.199.0 4 Ahau 8 Kumku, where 188.8.131.52.0 is the Long Count date, 4 Ahau is the Tzolkin date, and 8 Kumku is the Haab date,” adds Time and Date.
The calendars must work together.
Dates were specified by its position in both the Tzolkin and the Haab calendar — which created. 18,980 unique date combinations. This was used “to identify each day within a cycle lasting about 52 years. This period is called the Calendar Round.”
“The date combinations are represented by two wheels rotating in different directions. The smallest wheel consists of 260 teeth with each one having the name of the days of the Tzolkin. The larger wheel consists of 365 teeth and has the name of each of the positions of the Haab year. As both wheels rotate, the name of the Tzolkin day corresponds to each Haab position” explains Time and Date.
What’s more, “the date is further identified by counting the number of days from the ‘creation date,’ using the Long Count calendar.” This had the following format: Baktun.Katun.Tun.Uinal.Kin.
- Kin = 1 Day.
- Uinal = 20 kin = 20 days.
- Tun = 18 uinal = 360 days.
- Katun = 20 tun = 360 uinal = 7,200 days.
- Baktun = 20 katun = 400 tun = 7,200 uinal = 144,000 days.
Every 52 years the two calendars would start on the same day. They would celebrate the New Fire Festival on this day (El Fuego Nuevo). All the fires throughout their households would be put out and they would throw away all their clay utensils. It was a time of renewal and new beginnings.
The Tzolk’in, which means the “distribution of days,” was a religious or sacred calendar containing 260-days. The calendar had two cycles, a 20 day cycle (keepers) and a 13 day cycle (tones) — 20 X 13 = 260.
“Each Day Keeper has a variety of names due to regional differences and various translations,” writes Theresa Crabtree on Mayan Messages. “Each Day Keeper represents a group of Spiritual Beings. Additionally, the Tzolkin calendar only uses the numerals 1-13 which are called Tones or Tuns (toons).
Here is a list of the 20 Day Keepers :
Each day comes with an associated symbol known as Maya script or Maya glyphs.
The second main Maya calendar is a solar one called the Haab. This calendar had 18 months with 20 days in each. The five extra days in the 19th month were considered “unlucky.” But, they were needed in order to reach 365 days. Days in the month were numbered from 0 to 19.
Here’s a list of the Maya months in the Haab’ calendar courtesy of the Mayan Haab Calendar:
- Pop – The first of the month of the year. Similar to New Year’s Day for us, the first day of the year was welcomed with gift-giving and drinking.
- Uo – “Frog Physicians and shamans made offerings to Itzamna, the god of magic and patron of priests,” explains Mayan Haab Calendar. “Predictions for the year were made and individual priests were assigned their festival obligations for the year.”
- Zip – This month honored the god of hunting, Ek Zip.
- Zotz – Here is when “beekeepers prepared themselves for the coming activities by fasting.”
- Tzec – During this month offerings were made to images of the four Chaaks. This was also when the beekeeper festival occurred.
- Xul – The festival of Chicc-kaban, dedicated to Kulkulcan, the Feather Serpent took place in this month.
- Yaxkin – “Sun Preparations for the festivals during the next month. Instruments were anointed and many items were painted blue.”
- Mol – This was the month to make wooden effigies of the gods.
- Chen – The wooden effigies they were made the previous month was delivered to shrines. The artisans celebrated afterward.
- Yax – This was when temples were renovated or repaired, as well as ceremonies honoring Chaak the rain god.
- Zac – This was the time when hunters had their second festival of the year.
- Keh – “No specific festival is recorded for this month, though some scholars believe it may have been connected to ceremonies honoring deer.”
- Mac – Community elders would lead ceremonies honoring Chaak and Itzamna.
- Kankin – No festival is recorded for this month. But, some believe it was associated with canines.
- Muwan – “During this month the owners of cacao plantations gave thanks to the gods who protected their trees.”
- Pax – This month had ceremonies honoring warriors.
- Kayab – No recorded festivals are associated with this month. But, it’s believed that ceremonies honoring childbirth and midwives were conducted.
- Kumku – While there’s no record of festivals happening this month, the name suggests that harvest ceremonies occurred.
- Wayeb – Since these were considered bad luck days, nothing of significance was planned.
One more thing about the Haab…
As with the Tzolk’in glyphs were used to represent each month. Often these symbols were based on what was being celebrated that specific month.
It should also be noted that the Maya did not use numbers like ours. In fact, they only had three digits; a dot standing for ‘one’, a bar standing for ‘five’ and a shell for ‘zero’.
- 4 would be 4 dots
- 5 would be one bar
- 10 would be 2 bars
- 13 would be 2 bars and 3 dots
In a nutshell, you have a number + day + number + month.
The Long Count
This is an astronomical calendar used to track longer periods of time. The Maya called it the “universal cycle” with each one to last 880,000 days long (about 7885 solar years). “The Mayans believed that the universe is destroyed and then recreated at the start of each universal cycle.” This is what caused the 2012 phenomenon.
The “creation date” for the current cycle is 4 Ahau, 8 Kumku. This date is equivalent to August 11, 3114 BCE in the Gregorian calendar and September 6, 3114 BCE in the Julian calendar.
To find out a specific date, however, use a site like Living Maya Time to convert it into a corresponding one on the Maya calendar.
Creating a Mayan Calendar
Ready to make your own Mayan calendar? Here’s what you’ll need:
- A reference book or online resource containing the Mayan calendar glyphs and number symbols.
- Card stock
- Black ink pen
Make a round calendar. Use the pencil and draw a circle on the card stock. It should be large enough to fit 365 triangle shaped wedges around the edge. This will be used to represent the days.
“Beginning with one at the top, draw 365 triangles for wedges along the inner rim of the outer edge.” Take the scissors and cut out around the whole circle. Now, taking your time, cut out each wedge.
Place the days, which if you recall are named Kin, around the calendar. You’ll want to write in each day of the 20-day cycle using your pen. Remember, the days should be in this order: Inix, Ik, Akbal, Kan, Chicchan, Cimi, Manik, Lamat, Maluc, Oc, Chuen, Eb, Ben, Ix, Men, Cib, Caben, Etznab, Cauac, Ahau. Start with Inix in the top wedge and proceed around the calendar to your right.
Draw the glyphs for each day. Again, each day in the 20-day cycle has a glyph. You can look at the glyphs in your reference book or online. After finding the glyph, write the day name under each.
Starting with the first Inix, which will be the symbol for 0, match a corresponding 13-day number cycle to the days. Go around the calendar making sure that you write a symbol in dots and bars until reaching the symbol for 12. Then, start again at 0 and keep writing numbers in a 13 number sequence until you’re completely filled the circle.
Draw wedge sections for the 19 months called Uinal inside the days. You’ll need to draw the first section from the place under Inix through the place under Ahau. Don’t forget to leave space for month names and glyphs. Also, remember that the last month, called Uayeb, has only 5 months.
Now, go ahead and name each month of the calendar. Remember, the months proceed in a 19-month cycle and are as follows: Pop, Uo, Zip, Zotz, Zec, Xul, Yaxhin, Mol, Chen, Yax, Zac, Ceh, Mac, Kankin, Muan, Pax, Kayas, Kumku and Uayeb. Starting with Pop, proceed to your right, and write the month name in each section.
Draw the glyphs for each of the 19 months.
Number the months by starting inside the circle with the month names. Next, draw sections that match the month name sections. Then, go back to your reference book or online resource and look up the correct symbols. Finally, write the number of symbols from 0 to 19 for each month. Keep in mind that for the month Uayeb there are only 5 number symbols, 0 to 4.
An Easier Way:
If you download the calendar template (rings/wheels) – here and here, then there is a much easier way using just scissors and a butterfly/ split pin. All you really have to do is print the templates and cut them out. Next, pierce a hole in the center of each ring and place the pin flat on the other side.
If you want to build a more advanced Mayan calendar, you could use the steps listed above, or the templates, and place them on whatever materials you like such as clay or wood. Or, if you’re really handy you could try to construct this electronic version shared on Instructable Circuits.