The 260-day calendar[1] and the 365-day calendar constitute the major time computation systems Mesoamerican civilisations have in common. The traditional 260-day calendar and the traditional 365-day calendar (adapted to the Catholic liturgical 365-day calendar) continue to exist in various parts of Mesoamerica (cf. introduction chapter).[2] The 260-day calendar are still employed by “Day Keepers” (ritual specialists in traditional medicine, divination and other ceremonies) in the highlands of Guatemala and in the states of Veracruz, Chiapas and Oaxaca, Mexico where in some cases ancient practices and beliefs have been influenced by Catholic theology. The 260-day calendar is today in use in particular among the Mixe whereas in the highlands of Guatemala this calendar is practiced by the K’iche’ but is also known by the Ixil, Akateko, Q’anjob’al, Mam, Popti and Chuj.[3]

The 260-day calendar and the 365-day calendar were first recognised in the writing system of the Zapotecs in Oaxaca, Mexico (Caso 1965). But it is the postclassic Yucatec Maya culture (c. 900 AD - c. 1500 ad) from the Yucatan peninsula in southern Mexico that provides the unrivalled information of the ritual practice of time of the 260-day calendar (e.g. the Burner rituals) and of the 365-day calendar (e.g. the New Year rituals).[4] Neither

the 260-day calendar nor the traditional 365-day calendar is practised by the Yucatecs today. The Yucatec Maya spoke in the postclassic period, and still speak today,[5] the Maya language Yucatec identifying them as a distinct group.

How the religious socio-political and religious system is organised has implications for the religious belief, principles, institutions, and evidently the ritual practices. It is, however, a problem that the extant secondary sources do not reveal exactly when and where the recorded Yucatec Burner rituals of the 260-day calendar and the New Year festival of the 365-day calendar were conducted.[6] The political and social context of the temporal rituals under investigation is therefore hard to assess. The sources, however, document a fundamental difference between the nobility and the commoners, and also a quite large amount of religious specialists in Yucatan at that time (Lopez de Cogolludo 1971; Roys 1943; 1957; Tozzer 1941; Thompson 1970; Zender 2004c: 80-99).

  • [1] The Mixtecs employed a sacred language for the day signs and day numbers in theirmanuscripts. Michael W. Swanton and G. Bas van Doesburg (1996) has noted that not onlythe Mixtec but also the Chocho-Popoloca, which 260-days calendar have in general different day-names from the Mixtec 260-day calendar, of the same region employ a differentvocabulary of the names of the days of the 260-day calendar than in their everyday vocabulary. Only exceptions are the days for “wind” and “water”. In addition, the Mixe had anextraordinary vocabulary for elements of their calendar (Smith 1973: 23-27; Lipp 1983: 203;Boone 2007: 4).
  • [2] Cf. Tozzer 1941: 133, note 624; 135, note 631; Miles 1952; Bricker 1981: 8; Tedlock 1992: 1;92-93; Lipp 1983; 1991; Stresser-Pean 1995; Weitlaner et al. 1958; Weitlaner and De Cicco 1961.
  • [3] Cf. the research project “Time and Identity” under the direction of Professor Dr.Maarten E.R.G.N. Jansen at Leiden University (
  • [4] The Relacion of the sierra Zapotec town of Teocuicuilco outline a ritual (fiesta) heldevery 260-days. The ceremony started on the night before and continued until the samehour on the sacred day. Whitecotton believes that this ritual was celebrated in honour ofthe patron deity (Whitecotton 1977: 159). This may well have been a calendar ending andcalendar-inaugurating ritual of the 260-day calendar—hence a ritual practice of time.
  • [5] At present there are c. 750, 000 speakers of the Yucatec Maya language in the Mexicanstates ofYucatan, Campeche and Quintana Roo, and the Corozal and Orange Walk districtsof northern Belize (Bricker et al. 1998: ix).
  • [6] Cf. Kepecs and Masson (2003) for an analysis of the postclassic Yucatec religious andsocio-political system.
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