The constructed denomination “Maya” comprises c. seven or eight million people who speak a Mayan language today (there are 29 extant Mayan languages). The various contemporary Mayan peoples constitute cultural and linguistic minorities in the Mexican states Veracruz, Tabasco, San Luis Potosf Chiapas, Campeche, Yucatan and Quintana Roo, in Belize, in Guatemala, in the western parts of El Salvador and Honduras. The Maya civilisation of the southern and the central lowland was in the classic period (c. 250 AD - c. 900 ad) organised in independent cities or city-states, which consisted of a religious-political hierarchical and social differentiated system governed by a aristocracy and/or one or numerous lords called (k’uhul) ajaw. The Maya never created a large domain like for example the later Aztecs of Central Mexico, but at certain moments in time particular cities managed to some degree establish local hegemonies (city-states) during the classic period. The central southern lowland became to be depopulated in the terminal classic period (c. 800 AD - c. 900 ad). From c. 850 AD a foreign Central Mexican influence is manifested in the classic Maya cities. After 900 AD the city-state culture of the southern and central lowland classic Maya fell into decline and ended up being annihilated (cf. Martin and Grube 2000; Houston and Inomata 2009).[1]

Archaeologists has designated the period of the lowland Maya as “classic” because of the existence of dates from the so-called Long Count calendar corresponding to c. 250 AD - c. 900 AD found inscribed in their writing system on architectural structures and stone monuments. The major part of the classic Maya Long Count dates is, however, recorded in the late classic inscriptions (c. 600 AD - c. 900 ad) written in classic Ch’olti’an (Houston, Robertson and Stuart 2000) or classic Ch’olan/classic lowland Maya (Lacadena and Wichmann 1999; Wichmann 2006). The earliest acknowledged date from the Long Count calendar, from the region of the classic Maya civilisation in the southern lowlands, appears at Tikal, Guatemala on or October 14, 292 AD (Lounsbury 1981: 809; Martin and Grube 2000: 27).[2] The last recognised Long Count date engraved on a stone, a jade from Tonina, Mexico, is or January 18, 909 AD (Martin and Grube 2000: 13; Montgomery 2002: 70). There is less evidence for the use of the Long Count calendar after the classic period. The last known Long Count date— or September 25, 1210 AD—derive from a manuscript called Codex Dresden (Lounsbury 1981: 812). The tradition of observing the Long Count calendar continued probably into the sixteenth century. The Chronicle of Chicxulub states that it was terminated in the year 1517 AD (Bricker and Bricker 2011: 120).

As noted, the Maya cities and city-states of the southern and the central lowland of the classic period have left numerous records of computations of the Long Count calendar in their logosyllabic (aka hieroglyphic) inscriptions.[3] But the Long Count calendar is presumably not an invention of the Maya. The first ever known Long Count inscription—dated to according to the Long Count notation system or June 24, 34 BC—is located outside the Maya lowland region. This inscription on Stela 2 at Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas of southern Mexico is written in the Epi-Olmec or Isthme- ian script from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec of Southern Mexico. The Epi- Olmec culture (c. 300 BC - c. 250 ad) in the central region of Veracruz of Mexico was a successor to the Olmec civilisation (c. 1200 BC - c. 400 bc) in the Gulf coast region of southern Mexico. The Olmec are probably the predecessor of the present day Mixe and Zoque cultures of Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico (fig. 1). It is, however, only the classic Maya civilisation that has left a quite comprehensive record of inscriptions containing Long Count dates and the related ritual practice of time (Stuart 2011: 173-175).

  • [1] The regents of the most prestigious dynasties are from the 4th century bearing thek’uhul ajaw (“sacred lord”) title, a title that spread to the smaller cites during the classicperiod. This was to distinguish the rulers from the increasing aristocracy who came to usurpthe ajaw title (Houston and Stuart 1996: 295; Martin and Grube 2000: 17).
  • [2] The first known probable Maya date appears on Stela 1 at El Baul, on the Pacific Coaston March 2, 37 ad ( (Martin and Grube 2000: 13).
  • [3] A seven-day cycle, a nine day cycle, the 260-day calendar, the 365-day calendar, a819-day cycle (4 x 819 days) and poorly understood time cycles of the Lunar calendar andpossibly cycles defined by the movements of other heavenly bodies related to the LongCount calendar are recorded in the classic Maya inscriptions. Cf. Thompson (1978: 28-34;208; 212; 233; 237; 303), Lounsbury (1981: 814-816) and Stuart (1992) for bibliographic references to decipherment of the calendars in the Maya inscriptions.
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