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How to read the Mayan days of the week

Updated on August 19, 2016
Austinstar profile image

Lela earned a B.A. degree in Journalism from Sam Houston University in Huntsville, TX. She has been writing for the online world for years.

The Mayan 2012 Prophecy

The Mayan Calendar - Names for the days:

The Mayans planned their days according to a period of time somewhat equal to two of our weeks. Their work week was twice as long as ours. The days cycled through a combination of 13 and 20 day names to constitute a Tzolkin* or a 20 day "two week" period called a Uinal. The Uinal is roughly one of our months. Eighteen Uinal (360 days) plus 5 "dead" days equal one solar year of 365 days.

This sounds very hard for us to understand as we think in periods of seven days constituting one week and a two week period would be 14 days, not 20 days.

The Maya, however, consider 10 days to be equal to one of our weeks. A two week period would therefore equal 20 days to them. The twenty day Tzolkin is the way they understand time and how to apply the day names.

*Tzolkin = count of days (any count at all, could be a week, month, year, or century)

The Mayan Calendar

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Note that the Mayan Calendar looks and is different from the Aztec sun calendarDay glyphs of the Maya on Merchandise!
Note that the Mayan Calendar looks and is different from the Aztec sun calendar
Note that the Mayan Calendar looks and is different from the Aztec sun calendar | Source
Day glyphs of the Maya on Merchandise!
Day glyphs of the Maya on Merchandise! | Source

A look at the names of the days only

A Tzolkin or "count of days" is more akin to our days/months/year. The Maya had a Haab, or common civil calendar year that went by a count of 18 "months" consisting of 20 days each. This left 5 days at the end of each solar year. The Maya considered these 5 days unlucky, perhaps even "dead" days.

Inside of the Tzolkin or 20 day cycle are 13 numbered days. These days are not named, they are just the numbers zero through 13.

But the Tzolkin has 20 days! Not 13. How does this work?

The Maya had actual names and not just numbers for 20 of the days! Now why they only counted to 13 is a mystery. They had twenty names and they knew how to count to 20, so what was the problem?

The problem was that neither the 10 day week nor the 20 day month accounted for the 365 day year. The Maya knew about the 365 day solar year and the changing of the seasons. They also knew that the 365 day solar calendar was still off by a quarter of a day. The Mayans actually observed three very distinct and separate (but meshed) calendars! They observed a solar, lunar, as well as a celestial calendar!

In fact the Mayan calendars called for a special designation for every day during a long count. The long count will be explained in a later hub and is the basis of the so-called Mayan 2012 "end of the world" prediction.

The Mayan Long Count will start again on and will be designated in the Haab calendar and Tzolkin as 3 Kankin 4 Ahau (December 21, 2012) The winter solstice will be on the 21st or the 23rd of 2012.

Experts and even Mayans disagree with the actual beginning of the current Long Count. The current thinking is that this period started ( during the summer of 11 Aug 3114 B.C.E. (Gregorian) or 13 Aug 3114 B.C.E. (Gregorian). [B.C.E. = Before the common era or Before the Christian era}

How the Mayan Solar Year Worked

Gregorian Calendar Name
Mayan Name
Equal to:
24 hours
20 Kin or 20 Days
18 Uinal or 360 Days
20 Year period
20 Tun or 7,200 Days
394 Year period
20 Katun or 144,000 Days
7,885 Year period
20 Baktun or 2,880,000 Days
158,000 Year period
20 Pictun or 57,600,000 Days
3 Million Year period
20 Calabtun or 1,152,000,000 days
63 Million Year period
20 Kinchiltun or 23,040,000,000 days

Parts of the Mayan Tzolkin that need to be meshed together

Mayan Day Count
Mayan Day Name
Mayan Month Names

Here is a helpful video to explain some of the Mayan Calendar

The Maya Calendar explained

The Mayan and Other Ancient Calendars (Wooden Books)
The Mayan and Other Ancient Calendars (Wooden Books)

The study of heavenly cycles is common to most ancient cultures. The ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Babylonians all tried to make sense of the year. But it fell to the later Mesoamerican Maya to create a series of calendars that could be cross referenced. In doing so, the Maya discovered many strange numerical harmonics. Their lunar calendar was extremely accurate-far more so than the Greek Metonic cycle; they tracked Venus to an accuracy of less than a day in five hundred years and their tables could have been used to predict eclipses seven hundred years in the future. This book will provide a much needed compact guide to the Mayan calendar systems as well as covering the essentials of calendar development throughout the world.


© 2011 Lela

Comments - More to come, check back frequently this year...

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    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      I'm not sure why you are saying this is bizarre, zzron. Could you elaborate a little bit?

    • zzron profile image

      zzron 6 years ago from Houston, TX.

      This was really quite bizarre.

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Happy New Year!!

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      The calendar doesn't stop. It just reaches its December 31st as it were. The Mayan calendar just starts over again just like our New Year. Happy New Year!

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      True! I could just live without a clock completely. Half the time I have no idea what the actual date is? Lol. But I don't run on a schedule like that.

      I think it's Super fascinating! With a capital S! They were so incredibly smart and they didn't do things for simply no reason. I wish we did know why they did and why they stopped exactly where they did!

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      The Long Count calendar is the celestial calendar of the Maya. It syncs up with itself every 5,000 or so years. It is the mysterious part of the Mayan calendar that most people don't understand.

      It's easy to see how they calculated the days and months and the solar year. But we don't know why any civilization would need to predict things over thousands of years. The Mayans predicted all of the solar and lunar eclipses as well as the Milky Way galaxy alignments. Why?

      Only sophisticated astronomers need to know about precession and the movement of the planets.

      Most cultures just get along with the earth's rotation around the sun, maybe throw in a bit of axis wobble to predict the seasons, but after that, who cares?

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Ha! How did this get by ME? lol Super cool...I had no idea that their weeks were not put a heck of a lot of work into this and it is superb! I did try to look some of that info up but it was too complex for me. Great job..I can't wait to see the next one - I knew about the long count days but don't "get it."

      Up and everything!

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 6 years ago from south Florida

      Finding an easy way to understand the calendar Maya,

      Is giving me a headache, Holle, I'm off to the playa.

      Beach, to you, m'dear.

      Here's to a Happy New Year

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Hi barbergirl - very few of us have a grasp on the Mayan Calendar. Mostly because it is really 3 calendars, not one.

      Hi Bob - the village on Cozumel is called San Gervasio and it was dated back to 100 B.C.E. The entire island was dedicated to the Mayan Goddess of medicine, fertility, and weaving - Ixchel. Mostly occupied by the Itzas of Quintana Roo, San Gervasio is well preserved and is noted for the temple of the red hands. I have visited there many times. It's a lovely site.

      The Mayan culture is still very much alive. Almost all of Guatemala is Mayan and sites are still being discovered in Quintana Roo, Belize and other Central American areas. The language is still spoken commonly in the area and recent breakthroughs in the Mayan writing system have been made. There is a great deal more to Mayan life than we know. They are kind of reclusive.

      Hello Lew - Actually, the Mayan can calculate dates even further back than 3114 B.C.E. Their math and observations of the celestial sky are extremely sophisticated and advanced. The Maya are credited with inventing the concept of zero in mathematical calculations. Even though they were not around before the pyramids were built (as far as we know), they do have dates inscribed in glyphs that go back that far. Why they would need to do that is anyone's guess.

      Hi gogogo - I am trying my best to get a grip on writing more hubs this year. I hope to be posting more explanations of the Mayan Calendars soon. Thanks for stopping by!


    • profile image

      gogogo 6 years ago

      Enjoyed your article as I am an avid reader of all things about the Mayan culture, looking forward to reading more from you

    • LewSethics profile image

      LewSethics 6 years ago

      Very interesting. If the Mayans began their 'long count' in 3114 BCE then that would put their science (theoretically) a half thousand years before the egyptian pyramids.

      Getting things in historical perspective is always cool, I didn't realize the mayans went back so far, so I looked it up and it seems you may have misunderstood some of your research. The Mayan culture only dates back to about 500 BCE, but according to their Creation Myth the world was created on or about 3114 BCE. Maybe I misread your info.

      But, well done! We need more articles like this.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi dear. The Maya were a complex and interesting race, I read a lot about them once and spent some time in Cozumel where they had a famous village (preserved) and some old buildings. Their ancestors still survive, but rather like the North American Indian, their culture and way of life has almost gone. Bob

    • barbergirl28 profile image

      Stacy Harris 6 years ago from Hemet, Ca

      Very interesting. I never really understood the whole Mayan calendar and it still seems rather confusing... although you sure do seem to have a grasp on it!