long count

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The Long Count or Long Count calendar are the names of the Mayan calendar. For calculating long cosmic and historical cycles, the Maya used a system that we call the Long Count. It started on August 11, 3114 BC and it should end on December 21, 2012; a period of time 5,125 years long. The Maya divided this cycle into 13 sections, which they called “baktuns”. To understand the principle of the Long Count, we have to know the fundamentals of the system:

The Maya called 1 day “kin” (in the Mayan language, “kin” means sun and also day)

20 days are called an “unial”

18 unials (18 x 20) form one “tun”

20 tuns (18 x 20 x 20) form one “katun”, a very important time structure from the point of view of the Long Count

20 katuns equalled one “baktun”

Therefore, the Long Count consisted of 13 baktuns or 1,872,000 days (13 x 144,000 days)

 

Baktun                     katun                 tun                unial                kin

144,000 days       7,200 days           360 days          20 days             1 day

394 years            19.7 years

Although the 260-day period of the sacred calendar was of extreme importance for the Maya as far as prophecies and fortune-telling were concerned, it was rarely used for quoting long time periods and baktuns, katuns, tuns, unials and kins were preferred instead.

The katun was very important for the Maya – it lasted 7,200 days (19.7 years) and it is believed that it announced historical milestones. An interesting fact is that its duration, 19.7 years, is very close to the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn (19.86 years). Katuns are divided into twenty sections containing 360 daily units called tuns – (the Maya used them to count time instead of a period of 365 days). 13 katuns equal 260 tuns and form a complete cycle of the so-called Short Count. Every katun reflects the character of the entire generation. A cycle of 256 years, which forms the Short Count and is divided into 13 katuns, reflected the Mayan prophetic cycle – each of the 13 katuns predetermined a certain “fate”. The Maya believed that each of the katuns imposed some fate on humans every 256 years. The Maya identified each katun with the name “Ahau” followed by a number from one to thirteen. Ahau is the last of the twenty daily signs (see above) and it is the last day within the framework of the sacred calendar having 260 days (13 x 20).

The cycle starts with the katun Ahau 11 and continues with the katun Ahau 9 (and further on in the following order: 7, 5, 3, 1, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 and 13).

The Long Count represents a period of time lasting 5,125 years or 1,872,000 days (formed by 13 baktuns having 144,000 days each). From a different perspective, it is 1/5 of the long cycle (called the precession cycle*) and lasts approx. 25,770 years. The Maya obviously knew this phenomenon although they could not know its beginning – nevertheless, this astronomical event forms the end of their calendar, namely on December 21, 2012 – the date of the winter solstice. On this date, a so-called galactic alignment will occur when the Earth, the Sun and the centre of the Milky Way will briefly be located on one plane. At this moment, the position of the Sun will be directly in the centre of the Milky Way where Xibalba Be, a dark rift/band, is located. This a subject of Mayan mythology. Today it is obvious that the Long Count is not only a mere string of numbers, as we know that the Maya were able to calculate that the moment of the winter solstice in 2012 would pass though the dark band of the Milky Way, which they called Xibalba Be, and were able to project the Long Count in the reverse direction and find an origin in 3114 BC.

*) precession cycle: The Earth in the course of its revolution around the Sun rotates around its axis and while doing this, its poles describe an arc with respect to the neighbouring stars – this behaviour is known as precession. In other words, the Earth’s axis is inclined at an angle of 23.5 degrees and the Sun and the Moon’s gravity cause its slow disalignment. The axis passing through both poles describes a cone and it takes both poles approximately 25,770 years to complete one revolution and describe the cone (see Fig.)

 

 

 

 

Conclusion: The Long Count is a great invention of Mayan civilization (some researchers think that the Long Count could have been known to the Olmec, the predecessors of the Maya). The first documented date discovered on a stele in Chiapas is December 7, 36 BC. The sacred calendar with 260 days originated long before the Long Count and was used by most nations in Mesoamerica, but only the Maya used the Long Count. It allowed them to perceive the universe in a unique manner and in combination with the Sacred Calendar, the Long Count represented a new dimension of the concept of ritual time.

References:

Adrian Gilbert and Maurice Cotterell: “Mayan Prophecies”

Kenneth Johnson “Jaguar Wisdom”

B. Scofield and B.Orr: “How to Practice Mayan Astrology

 

 

 

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