The Ritual Sequential (Interval) Structure of the Long Count calendar

Fundamentally, the Gregorian linear calendar makes a count of the number of years whereas the Long Count calendar constitutes a counting days beginning at the day of creation of the contemporary Long Count period at 4 Ajaw 8 Ohl (Kumk’u) corresponding to August 11, 3114 BC in the Gregorian calendar. The basic time reckoning of the Long Count calendar consists of five positions within a place-notation arrangement. The names of these five time units, with the Yucatec designations in parenthesis, are:

Pik (Bak’tun): 144, 000 days Winikhaab (K’atun): 7, 200 days Haab[1] (Tun): 360 days Winal/Winik: 20 days K’in: 1 day

As noted, we do not know exactly when the Long Count calendar was no longer practiced. The Spanish missionary fray Diego de Landa comments in Relacion de las cosas de Yucatan (c. 1566) of the high numbers that the Maya had:

... often very long counts and they extend them in infinitum, counting the number 8000 twenty times, which makes 160,000; then again this 160,000 by twenty, and so on multiplying by 20, until they reach a number which cannot be counted (Tozzer 1941: 98).

A temporal system of a cyclical so-called Short Count calendar of c. 256 years (93,600 days) i.e. 260 tuns or 13 k’atuns (winikhaab) more or less replaced the linear Long Count calendar in the postclassic period (c. 900 AD - c. 1500 ad) at Yucatan of Mexico (Roys 1967: 132, 184-185).[2] The Short Count is an abbreviation of the Long Count system. Each k’atun of the Short Count was designated after its final day, which is Ajaw of the 260-day cal?endar. The Short Count calendar was counted from k’atun 11 Ajaw to k’atun 13 Ajaw, with the coefficients of the k’atuns concluding days organised in the order 11 - 9 - 7 - 5 - 3 - 1 - 12 - 10 - 8 - 6 - 4 - 2 - 13 Ajaw (because a division of 20 x 360 days by 13 falls 2 days short) (Lounsbury 1981: 812-813).

A vast amount of stone monuments and structures of the classic Maya embody inscriptions that celebrate a ritual completion or initiation of various pik, winikhaab and haab time-intervals of the Long Count calendar. Mayanists have classified these events as “period-ending rituals/ceremo- nies”, which I, however, categorise as “ritual practices of time”. The concept “period-ending” is inaccurate because it is not only about a celebration of a terminated time period but also the commencement of a new time interval within the Long Count calendar. From the inscriptions, it appears that the various classic Maya cities had different traditions of when to observe these temporal ceremonies. Some cities seem to emphasise the quarter-winikhaab (ho’ tun) like for instance Piedras Negras and Quirigua whereas other cites observed the winikhaab and half-winikhaab (Martin and Grube 2000: 141; 148; 220-221; Montgomery 2002: 106). There was accordingly a great variation regarding the interval temporal structure of the ritual practice of time of the Long Count calendar.[3] But the ritual practice of the winikhaab was the most frequently recorded in the inscriptions and probably most often celebrated.[4] Evidently, there are not many examples of ritually celebrated pik in the classic period and postclassic period since they happened only every 144,000 days or c. 394,52 years. There are only two pik dates in the classic period: (435 ad) and (830 ad). The ritual practice of time of a pik ought to have represented a particular important event.[5] Consequently, there were many performances of rituals of time of various units within the linear Long Count calendar. This category of ritual practice of time did not conclude or introduce the duration of a comprehensive (i.e. cyclical) calendar. The ritual practices of time of the Long Count calendar is accordingly not to be classified as a calendarending or a calendar-inaugurating, but instead incorporated a completion or introduction of heterogeneous interval units of time.

  • [1] The haab of 360 days was the fundamental time unit intended to approximate thesolar or vague year of 365 days (Taube 1988: 205), since 360 days almost amounts to a solaryear. Tun is the Yucatec word for haab, which is a Yucatec designation for a year of 365 days(Barrera Vasquez 1980: 165). It is rather strange that the classic inscriptions of the southernlowlands employ the designation tun for periods of 5 (ho’ tun), 10 (lajun tun), or 15 (ho’lajuntun) haab.
  • [2] This chronological system of k’atuns marked by their Ajaw-endings and sometimesqualified by dates from the 260-day calendar and from the European calendar has survivedonly as a synthesis of history, prophecy and divination in the Yucatec Maya colonial booksof the Chilam Balam, which were written in Yucatec but in Latin script.
  • [3] Recent discoveries at Palenque, Mexico indicate that the classic Maya also celebratedone-eighth of a winikhaab, that is, a half hotun or 900 days. There were “cord-taking” rituals connected to events 2.9.0 (900 days) after the ending of a winikhaab. Celebration of acommemoration of the 1/8th of a winikhaab-period can be identified; they are of the selfevident kind, in a variety of inscriptions from Tonina, Mexico and Palenque. Moreover, theinscription of Stela J, Copan, Honduras encloses a list of individual tuns within the winikhaabperiod. The tuns have each their own “designation” (Newsome 2001: 77-90; Schele andLooper 1996: 104; Martin and Grube 2000: 187; Stuart 2000: 6). Stuart has furthermore identified a calendar cycle of 9 solar years on monuments at Tonina (Stuart 2002; 2007c).
  • [4] Stuart claim that the “period-ending” of (692 ad) was particular importantbecause of the coefficient 13 referring to the Creation base date and origin of the world(Stuart 2011: 184-185). This is, however, difficult to substantiate as the inscriptions from thisperiod (late classic) are in majority.
  • [5] Christie has collected examples of inscribed and dates (1995: 47-48).
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