The Mesoamerican Long Count calendar is a non-repeating, vigesimal (base-20) and octodecimal (base-18) calendar used by several pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures, most notably the Maya. For this reason, it is often known as the Maya (or Mayan) Long Count calendar. Using a modified vigesimal tally, the Long Count calendar identifies a day by counting the number of days passed since a mythical creation date that corresponds to August 11, 3114 BCE in the Proleptic Gregorian calendar.[n 1] The Long Count calendar was widely used on monuments.
The two most widely used calendars in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, were the 260-day Tzolkʼin and the 365 day Haabʼ. The equivalent Aztec calendars are known in Nahuatl as the tonalpohualli and Xiuhpohualli.
The combination of a Haabʼ and a Tzolkʼin date identifies a day in a combination which does not occur again for 18,980 days (52 Haabʼ cycles of 365 days times 73 Tzolkʼin cycles of 260 days, approximately 52 years), a period known as the Calendar Round. To identify days over periods longer than this, Mesoamericans used the Long Count calendar.
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The Long Count calendar identifies a date by counting the number of days from a starting date that is generally calculated to be August 11, 3114 BCE in the proleptic Gregorian calendar or September 6 in the Julian calendar (or −3113 in astronomical year numbering). There has been much debate over the precise correlation between the Western calendars and the Long Count calendars. The August 11 date is based on the GMT correlation (see Correlations between Western calendars and the Long Count calendar section elsewhere in this article for details on correlations).
The completion of 13 bʼakʼtuns (August 11, 3114 BCE) marks the Creation of the world of human beings according to the Maya. On this day, Raised-up-Sky-Lord caused three stones to be set by associated gods at Lying-Down-Sky, First-Three-Stone-Place. Because the sky still lay on the primordial sea, it was black. The setting of the three stones centered the cosmos which allowed the sky to be raised, revealing the sun.
Rather than using a base-10 scheme, the Long Count days were tallied in a modified base-20 scheme. In a pure base-20 scheme, 0.0.0.1.5 is equal to 25 and 0.0.0.2.0 is equal to 40. The Long Count is not pure base-20, however, since the second digit from the right (and only that digit) rolls over to zero when it reaches 18. Thus 0.0.1.0.0 does not represent 400 days, but rather only 360 days and 0.0.0.17.19 represents 359 days.
The name bʼakʼtun was invented by modern scholars. The numbered Long Count was no longer in use by the time the Spanish arrived in the Yucatán Peninsula, although unnumbered kʼatuns and tuns were still in use. Instead the Maya were using an abbreviated Short Count.
Long Count dates are written with Mesoamerican numerals, as shown on this table. A dot represents 1 while a bar equals 5. The shell glyph was used to represent the zero concept. The Long Count calendar required the use of zero as a place-holder and presents one of the earliest uses of the zero concept in history.
On Maya monuments, the Long Count syntax is more complex. The date sequence is given once, at the beginning of the inscription and opens with the so-called ISIG (Introductory Series Initial Glyph) which reads tzik-a(h) habʼ [patron of Haabʼ month] ("revered was the year-count with the patron [of the month]"). Next come the 5 digits of the Long Count, followed by the Calendar Round (tzolkʼin and Haabʼ) and supplementary series. The supplementary series is optional and contains lunar data, for example, the age of the moon on the day and the calculated length of current lunation.[n 2] The text then continues with whatever activity occurred on that date.
A drawing of a full Maya Long Count inscription is shown below.
The earliest contemporaneous Long Count inscription yet discovered is on Stela 2 at Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas, Mexico, showing a date of 36 BCE, although Stela 2 from Takalik Abaj, Guatemala might be earlier.  Takalik Abaj Stela 2's highly battered Long Count inscription shows 7 bak'tuns, followed by k'atuns with a tentative 6 coefficient, but that could also be 11 or 16, giving the range of possible dates to fall between 236 and 19 BCE.[n 3]
Although Takalik Abaj Stela 2 remains controversial, this table includes it, as well as six other artifacts with the eight oldest Long Count inscriptions according to Dartmouth professor Vincent H. Malmström (two of the artifacts contain two dates and Malmström does not include Takalik Abaj Stela 2). Interpretations of inscriptions on some artifacts differ.
|Archaeological site||Name||Gregorian date
GMT (584283) correlation
|Takalik Abaj||Stela 2||236 – 19 BCE||7.(6,11,16).?.?.?||Guatemala|
|Chiapa de Corzo||Stela 2||December 6, 36 BCE or
October 9, 182 CE
|Tres Zapotes||Stela C||September 1, 32 BCE||22.214.171.124.18||Veracruz, Mexico|
|El Baúl||Stela 1||11 - 37 CE||126.96.36.199.12,
|Takalik Abaj||Stela 5||August 31, 83 CE or
May 19, 103 CE
|Takalik Abaj||Stela 5||June 3, 126 CE||188.8.131.52.11||Guatemala|
|La Mojarra||Stela 1||May 19, 143 CE||184.108.40.206.5||Veracruz, Mexico|
|La Mojarra||Stela 1||July 11, 156 CE||220.127.116.11.7||Veracruz, Mexico|
|Near La Mojarra||Tuxtla Statuette||March 12, 162 CE||18.104.22.168.17||Veracruz, Mexico|
Of the six sites, three are on the western edge of the Maya homeland and three are several hundred kilometers further west, leading some researchers to believe that the Long Count calendar predates the Maya. La Mojarra Stela 1, the Tuxtla Statuette, Tres Zapotes Stela C and Chiapa Stela 2 are all inscribed in an Epi-Olmec, not Maya, style. El Baúl Stela 2, on the other hand, was created in the Izapan style.
More recently, with the discovery in Guatemala of the San Bartolo (Maya site) stone block text (c. 300 BCE), it has been argued that this text celebrates an upcoming time period ending celebration. This time period may have been projected to end sometime between 22.214.171.124.0 and 126.96.36.199.0 — 295 and 256 BCE, respectively. Besides this being the earliest Maya hieroglyphic text so far uncovered, it would arguably be the earliest glyphic evidence to date of Long Count notation in Mesoamerica.
The Maya and Western calendars are correlated by using a Julian day number (JDN) of the starting date of the current creation — 188.8.131.52.0, 4 Ajaw, 8 Kumkʼu.[n 4] This is referred to as a correlation constant. The generally accepted correlation constant is the Modified Thompson 2, "Goodman–Martinez–Thompson", or GMT correlation of 584,283 days. Using the GMT correlation, the current creation started on September 6, −3113 (Julian astronomical) – August 11, 3114 BCE in the Proleptic Gregorian calendar. The study of correlating the Maya and western calendar is referred to as the correlation question. The GMT correlation is also called the 11.16 correlation.
In Breaking the Maya Code, Michael D. Coe writes: "In spite of oceans of ink that have been spilled on the subject, there now is not the slightest chance that these three scholars (conflated to GMT when talking about the correlation) were not right...". The evidence for the GMT correlation is historical, astronomical and archaeological:
Historical: Calendar Round dates with a corresponding Julian date are recorded in Diego de Landa's Relación de las cosas de Yucatán (written circa 1566), the Chronicle of Oxcutzkab and the books of Chilam Balam. De Landa records a date that is a Tun ending in the Short Count. Oxkutzcab contains 12 Tun endings. Bricker and Bricker find that only the GMT correlation in consistent with these dates. The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel contains the only colonial reference to classic long-count dates. The Julian calendar date of 184.108.40.206.0 confirms the GMT correlation.
The Annals of the Cakchiquels contains numerous Tzolkʼin dates correlated with European dates. These confirm the GMT correlation. Weeks, Sachse and Prager transcribed three divinatory calendars from highland Guatemala. They found that the 1772 calendar confirms the GMT correlation. The fall of the capital city of the Aztec Empire, Tenochtitlan, occurred on August 13, 1521. A number of different chroniclers wrote that this was a Tzolkʼin (Tonalpohualli) of 1 Snake.
Post-conquest scholars such as Sahagún and Durán recorded Tonalpohualli dates with a calendar date. Many indigenous communities in the Mexican states of Veracruz, Oaxaca and Chiapas and in Guatemala, principally those speaking the Mayan languages Ixil, Mam, Pokomchí and Quiché, keep the Tzolkʼin and in many cases the Haabʼ. These are all consistent with the GMT correlation. Munro Edmonsen studied 60 Mesoamerican calendars, 20 of which have known correlations to European calendars, and found remarkable consistency among them and that only the GMT correlation fits the historical, ethnographic and astronomical evidence.
Astronomical: Any correct correlation must match the astronomical content of classic inscriptions. The GMT correlation does an excellent job of matching lunar data in the supplementary series. For example: An inscription at the Temple of the Sun at Palenque records that on Long Count 220.127.116.11.8 there were 26 days completed in a 30-day lunation. This Long Count is also the entry date for the eclipse table of the Dresden Codex [n 5] which gives eclipse seasons when the Moon is near its ascending or descending node and an eclipse is likely to occur. Dates converted using the GMT correlation agree closely with the Dresden Codex eclipse tables. The Dresden Codex contains a Venus table which records the heliacal risings of Venus. Using the GMT correlation these agree closely with modern astronomical calculations.
Archaeological: Various items that can be associated with specific Long Count dates have been isotope dated. In 1959 the University of Pennsylvania carbon dated samples from ten wood lintels from Tikal. These were carved with a date equivalent to 741 AD, using the GMT correlation. The average carbon date was 746±34 years. Recently one of these, Lintel 3 from Temple I, was analyzed again using more accurate methods and found to agree closely with the GMT correlation.
If a proposed correlation only has to agree with one of these lines of evidence there could be numerous other possibilities. Astronomers have proposed many correlations, for example: Lounsbury, Fuls, et al., Böhm and Böhm and Stock.
Today, 4 April 2020 (UTC), in the Long Count is 18.104.22.168.1 (GMT correlation).
|Modified Thompson 1||584,284|
|Böhm & Böhm||622,261|
|Fuls, et al.||660,208|
|Long Count||(proleptic before 1582) Gregorian date
GMT (584,283) correlation
|Julian day |
|0.0.0.0.0||Thu, Apr 1, 8239 BCE||-1,287,717|
|22.214.171.124.0||Sun, Jul 4, 7845 BCE||-1,143,717|
|126.96.36.199.0||Wed, Oct 7, 7451 BCE||-999,717|
|188.8.131.52.0||Sat, Jan 9, 7056 BCE||-855,717|
|184.108.40.206.0||Tue, Apr 14, 6662 BCE||-711,717|
|220.127.116.11.0||Fri, Jul 17, 6268 BCE||-567,717|
|18.104.22.168.0||Mon, Oct 20, 5874 BCE||-423,717|
|22.214.171.124.0||Thu, Jan 22, 5479 BCE||-279,717|
|126.96.36.199.0||Sun, Apr 26, 5085 BCE||-135,717|
|188.8.131.52.0||Wed, Jul 30, 4691 BCE||8,283|
|10.0.0.0.0||Sat, Nov 1, 4297 BCE||152,283|
|184.108.40.206.0||Tue, Feb 3, 3902 BCE||296,283|
|220.127.116.11.0||Fri, May 8, 3508 BCE||440,283|
|18.104.22.168.0||Mon, Aug 11, 3114 BCE||584,283|
|22.214.171.124.0||Thu, Nov 13, 2720 BCE||728,283|
|126.96.36.199.0||Sun, Feb 16, 2325 BCE||872,283|
|188.8.131.52.0||Wed, May 21, 1931 BCE||1,016,283|
|184.108.40.206.0||Sat, Aug 23, 1537 BCE||1,160,283|
|220.127.116.11.0||Tue, Nov 26, 1143 BCE||1,304,283|
|18.104.22.168.0||Fri, Feb 28, 748 BCE||1,448,283|
|22.214.171.124.0||Mon, Jun 3, 354 BCE||1,592,283|
|126.96.36.199.0||Thu, Sep 5, 41 CE||1,736,283|
|188.8.131.52.0||Sun, Dec 9, 435||1,880,283|
|10.0.0.0.0||Wed, Mar 13, 830||2,024,283|
|184.108.40.206.0||Sat, Jun 15, 1224||2,168,283|
|220.127.116.11.0||Tue, Sep 18, 1618||2,312,283|
|18.104.22.168.0||Fri, Dec 21, 2012||2,456,283|
|22.214.171.124.0||Mon, Mar 26, 2407||2,600,283|
|126.96.36.199.0||Thu, Jun 28, 2801||2,744,283|
|188.8.131.52.0||Sun, Oct 1, 3195||2,888,283|
|184.108.40.206.0||Wed, Jan 3, 3590||3,032,283|
|220.127.116.11.0||Sat, Apr 7, 3984||3,176,283|
|18.104.22.168.0||Tue, Jul 11, 4378||3,320,283|
|22.214.171.124.0.0||Fri, Oct 13, 4772||3,464,283|
According to the Popol Vuh, a book compiling details of creation accounts known to the Kʼicheʼ Maya of the Colonial-era highlands, we are living in the fourth world. The Popol Vuh describes the first three creations that the gods failed in making and the creation of the successful fourth world where men were placed. In the Maya Long Count, the previous creation ended at the end of a 13th bʼakʼtun.
The previous creation ended on a Long Count of 126.96.36.199.19. Another 188.8.131.52.19 occurred on December 20, 2012 (Gregorian Calendar), followed by the start of the 14th bʼakʼtun, 184.108.40.206.0, on December 21, 2012.[n 6] There are only two references to the current creation's 13th bʼakʼtun in the fragmentary Mayan corpus: Tortuguero Monument 6, part of a ruler's inscription and the recently discovered La Corona Hieroglyphic Stairway 2, Block V.
Maya inscriptions occasionally reference future predicted events or commemorations that would occur on dates that lie beyond 2012 (that is, beyond the completion of the 13th bʼakʼtun of the current era). Most of these are in the form of "distance dates" where some Long Count date is given, together with a Distance Number that is to be added to the Long Count date to arrive at this future date.
For example, on the west panel at the Temple of Inscriptions in Palenque, a section of the text projects into the future to the 80th Calendar Round (CR) 'anniversary' of the famous Palenque ruler Kʼinich Janaabʼ Pakal's accession to the throne (Pakal's accession occurred on a Calendar Round date 5 Lamat 1 Mol, at Long Count 220.127.116.11.8 equivalent to 27 July 615 CE in the proleptic Gregorian calendar).[n 7] It does this by commencing with Pakal's birthdate 18.104.22.168.0 8 Ajaw 13 Pop (24 March 603 CE Gregorian) and adding to it the Distance Number 10.11.10.5.8.
This calculation arrives at the 80th Calendar Round since his accession, a day that also has a CR date of 5 Lamat 1 Mol, but which lies over 4,000 years in the future from Pakal's time—the day 21 October in the year 4772. The inscription notes that this day would fall eight days after the completion of the 1st piktun [since the creation or zero date of the Long Count system], where the piktun is the next-highest order above the bʼakʼtun in the Long Count. If the completion date of that piktun—13 October 4772—were to be written out in Long Count notation, it could be represented as 22.214.171.124.0.0. The 80th CR anniversary date, eight days later, would be 126.96.36.199.0.8 5 Lamat 1 Mol.
Despite the publicity generated by the 2012 date, Susan Milbrath, curator of Latin American Art and Archaeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, stated that "We have no record or knowledge that [the Maya] would think the world would come to an end" in 2012. USA Today writes "'For the ancient Maya, it was a huge celebration to make it to the end of a whole cycle,' says Sandra Noble, executive director of the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies in Crystal River, Florida. To render December 21, 2012, as a doomsday event or moment of cosmic shifting, she says, is 'a complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of people to cash in.'" "There will be another cycle," says E. Wyllys Andrews V, director of the Tulane University Middle American Research Institute (MARI). "We know the Maya thought there was one before this, and that implies they were comfortable with the idea of another one after this."
Using as an example the Long Count date of 188.8.131.52.0 (Long Count date mentioned on the Palenque Palace Tablet), first calculate the number of days that have passed since the zero date (August 11, 3114 BC; GMT correlation, in the Proleptic Gregorian calendar, September 6, −3113 Julian astronomical).
|9||× 144,000||= 1,296,000|
|10||× 7,200||= 72,000|
|11||× 360||= 3,960|
|17||× 20||= 340|
|0||× 1||= 0|
|Total days||= 1,372,300|
Then add the GMT correlation to the total number of days.
This number is a Julian day.
From this number, subtract the nearest smaller Julian Day Number (in the table below), in this case 1 940 206, which corresponds to the year 600 AD.
|1||1 721 060||1 100||2 122 827|
|100||1 757 585||1 200||2 159 351|
|200||1 794 109||1 300||2 195 876|
|300||1 830 633||1 400||2 232 400|
|400||1 867 157||1 500||2 268 924|
|500||1 903 682||1 600||2 305 448|
|600||1 940 206||1 700||2 341 973|
|700||1 976 730||1 800||2 378 497|
|800||2 013 254||1 900||2 415 021|
|900||2 049 779||2 000||2 451 545|
|1 000||2 086 303|
Next, divide this number by 365 days (vague year).
The remainder is 44.86849 years, which is 44 years and 317 days. The full year date is 644 AD. Now calculate the month and day number, taking into account leap days over the 44 years. In the Gregorian Calendar, every fourth year is a leap year with the exception of centuries not evenly divisible by 400 (e.g. 100, 200, 300). When the year is divisible by 400 (e.g. 400, 800, etc.), do not add an extra day. Our calculated year is 644 AD. The number of leap days, keeping in mind that the year 600 is not a leap year, is 10. Subtracting that from 317 remainder days is 307; in other words, the 307th day of the year 644 AD, which is November 3. To summarize: the Long Count date 184.108.40.206.0 corresponds to November 3, 644 AD, in the Proleptic Gregorian calendar.
Important: Astronomical algorithms calculate a day as a decimal number equal to a day and a fraction of a day. The Julian date starts at noon. Astronomical dating has a year 0. In historical dating the year 1 BCE is followed by the year 1. Astronomical years before 0 are written with a negative sign. For example, the year 3114 BCE is the year −3113 astronomical.
In this Example:
input: Julian day J J = J + 0.5 // 1,956,583.5 Z = integer part of J // 1,956,583 F = fraction part of J // 0.5 if Z < 2,299,161 then // Julian? A = Z else alpha = floor((Z - 1,867,216.25) / 36,524.25) // 15 A = Z + 1 + alpha - floor(alpha / 4.0) // 2,436,129 // The floor operation rounds a decimal number down to the next lowest integer. // For example, floor(1.5) = 1 and floor(−1.5) = -2 end if B = A + 1524 // 1,958,107 C = floor((B - 122.1) / 365.25) // 5,360 D = floor(365.25 × C) // 1,957,740 E = floor((B - D) / 30.6001) // 11 day = B - D - floor(30.6001 × E) + F // 31.5 if E < 14 then month = E - 1 // 10 else month = E - 13 end if if month > 2 then year = C - 4716 // 644 else year = C - 4715 end if return (year, month, day)
As stated, a full Long Count date not only includes the five digits of the Long Count, but the 2-character Tzolkʼin and the two-character Haabʼ dates as well. The five digit Long Count can therefore be confirmed with the other four characters (the "calendar round date").
Taking as an example a Calendar Round date of 220.127.116.11.16 (Long Count) 5 Kibʼ (Tzolkʼin) 14 Yaxkʼin (Haabʼ). One can check whether this date is correct by the following calculation.
It is perhaps easier to find out how many days there are since 4 Ajaw 8 Kumkʼu and show how the date 5 Kibʼ 14 Yaxkʼin is derived.
|9||× 144000||= 1296000|
|12||× 7200||= 86400|
|2||× 360||= 720|
|0||× 20||= 0|
|16||× 1||= 16|
|Total days||= 1383136|
The Tzolkʼin date is counted forward from 4 Ajaw. To calculate the numerical portion of the Tzolkʼin date, add 4 to the total number of days given by the date and then divide total number of days by 13.
This means that 106,395 whole 13-day cycles have been completed and the numerical portion of the Tzolkʼin date is 5.
To calculate the day, divide the total number of days in the long count by 20 since there are twenty day names.
This means 16 day names must be counted from Ajaw. This gives Kibʼ. Therefore, the Tzolkʼin date is 5 Kibʼ.
The Haabʼ date 8 Kumkʼu is the ninth day of the eighteenth month. There are 17 days to the start of the next year.
Subtract 17 days from the total, to find how many complete Haabʼ years are contained.
Divide by 365
Therefore, 3,789 complete Haabʼ have passed and the remainder 134 is the 135th day in the new Haabʼ, since a remainder of 0 would indicate the first day.
Find which month the day is in. Dividing the remainder 134 by 20, is six complete months and a remainder of 14, indicating the 15th day. So, the date in the Haabʼ lies in the seventh month, which is Yaxkʼin. The fifteenth day of Yaxkʼin is 14, thus the Haabʼ date is 14 Yaxkʼin.
So the date of the long count date 18.104.22.168.16 5 Kibʼ 14 Yaxkʼin is confirmed.
There are also four rarely used higher-order periods above the bʼakʼtun: piktun, kalabtun, kʼinchiltun and alautun. All of these words are inventions of Mayanists. Each one consists of 20 of the lesser units.
Many inscriptions give the date of the current creation as a large number of 13s preceding 22.214.171.124.0 4 Ahau 8 Kumkʼu. For example, a Late Classic monument from Coba, Stela 1. The date of creation is expressed as 126.96.36.199.188.8.131.52.184.108.40.206.220.127.116.11.18.104.22.168.0.0.0.0, where the units are 13s in the nineteen places larger than the bʼakʼtun. Some authors think that the 13s were symbolic of a completion and don't represent an actual number.
Most inscriptions that use these are in the form of distance dates and Long Reckonings – they give a base date, a distance number that is added or subtracted and the resulting Long Count.
The first example below is from Schele (1987 p.). The second is from Stuart (2005 pp. 60, 77)
Palenque Temple of the Cross, tablet, Schele (1987 p.)
22.214.171.124.0 8 Ajaw 18 Tzek in the prior era
6.14.0 Distance number linking to the "era date"
126.96.36.199.0 4 Ajaw 8 Kumkʼu
Palenque Temple XIX, South Panel G2-H6 Stuart (2005 pp. 60, 77)
188.8.131.52. 2 9 Ikʼ 5 Mol (seating of GI in the prior era)
184.108.40.206.2 9 Ikʼ 15 Keh (rebirth of GI, this date also in Temple of the Cross)
The tablet of the inscriptions contains this inscription:
220.127.116.11.0 8 Ajaw 13 Pop
The Dresden codex contains another method for writing distance numbers. These are Ring Numbers. Specific dates within the Dresden codex are often given by calculations involving Ring Numbers. Förstemann identified these, but Wilson (1924:24–25) later clarified the way in which they operate. Ring Numbers are intervals of days between the Era Base date 4 Ajaw 8 Kumkʼu and an earlier Ring Base date, where the place-holder for the numeral of days in the interval is circled by an image of a tied red band. Added to this earlier Ring Base date is another count of days forward, which Thompson refers to as a Long Round, leading to a final date within the Long Count that is given as an entry date to be used within a specific table in the codex.
Ring number (12) 18.104.22.168.1 13 Imix 9 Wo (22.214.171.124 before (13) 126.96.36.199.0)
distance number (0) 10.13.13.3.2
Long Count 10.6.10.6.3 13 Akʼbal 1 Kankʼin
Ring number (portion of the DN preceding era date) 188.8.131.52
Add Ring number to the ring number date to reach 184.108.40.206.0
The parallel *oo Ͼ *uu Ͼ *u shift in Chʼolan is attested indirectly in the use of the T548 TUN/ HABʼ logogram with the Initial Series Introductory Glyph on Takalik Abaj Stela 2 (236–19 b.c.; Justeson and Mathews 1983; MoraMarín 2001:253).
if the 12 tun endings in the Chronicle of Oxkutzcab are accepted as referring to the 12 consecutive years and if the calendar-round dates (except that containing the month of Ceh) are correct when translated to a common calendar, the “11.16” correlation is the only possible one.