Almanac: An almanac includes dates in the 260-day ritual calendar (the tzolk'in), as well as pictures and hieroglyphic texts. Most almanacs are divided into a series of frames which consist of a hieroglyphic caption, two bar-and-dot numbers (the first in black and the second in red, or outlined in black-and-white drawings of the Maya codices), and frequently a picture.

Almanac types:

  • Standard: Standard almanacs begin with a column of tzolk'in dates and include two or more frames that have a hieroglyphic text, bar-and-dot numbers representing a distance number and coefficient, and often a picture.
  • Circular: Like standard almanacs, circular almanacs begin with a column of tzolk'in dates. Following this, they usually have one central picture with a series of bar-and-dot numbers (distance numbers and coefficients) scattered around the picture. Some examples include short captions consisting of the glyphs for the four world directions at each of the corners of the picture.
  • Crossover: Like standard almanacs, crossover almanacs begin with a column of tzolk'in dates. Following this, they usually have two frames that contain a column of bar-and-dot numbers (both distance numbers and coefficients), a hieroglyphic caption, and a picture. To calculate the almanac’s calendrical structure, one must move back and forth across the two frames.
  • In extenso: In extenso almanacs list all 260 days of the tzolk'in in order.

    Coefficient: A coefficient is a number that is represented in the codices by bar-and-dot notation. Each bar represents 5 and each dot 1. Day glyphs are paired with coefficients ranging from 1 to 13 and month glyphs with coefficients ranging from 0 (represented by a glyph for “seating”) to 19.

    Day name: The Maya tzolk'in, or 260-day calendar, combines a coefficient ranging from 1 to 13 with a glyph representing the name of the day. There are 20 day names, including: Imix, Ik’, Ak’b’al, K’an, Chikchan, Kimi, Manik’, Lamat, Muluk, Ok, Chuwen, Eb’, B’en, Ix, Men, Kib’, Kab’an, Etz’nab’, Kawak, and Ahaw.

    Deities: Most of the human-looking figures in the Maya codices are deities. Before their name glyphs (or appellatives) could be read, they were given a series of letter designations by Paul Schellhas (in 1904); these were later modified by David Kelley (in 1976) and Karl Taube (in 1992). Most of the letter designations have since been replaced by the names recorded in the hieroglyphic captions, although a few appellative glyphs still cannot be read. Many of these deities are described in Spanish Colonial accounts, so we know a fair amount about them.

    Letter DesignationGlyphic NameEnglish NameAssociations
    God AKimildeath (god)
    God A'Kam?death (god)secondary death god
    God BChaakrain (god)
    God C K’uhgodembodies concept of holiness or divinity; can substitute for any of the other gods
    God CHYax B’alamFirst Jaguarcorresponds to Xbalanque in the Popol Vuh
    God DItzamnacreator god
    God ENalmaize (god)
    God GK’inich AhawLord Sun
    God HNikflower (god)
    Goddess IIx? Kab’Lady Earth
    God KK’awillord of sustenance
    God L??one of a series of black deities; may have associations with Venus
    God M??merchant and warrior god; one of a series of black deities
    God NPawahtunseries of quadripartite deities responsible for holding up the world
    Goddess OChak ChelRed/Great Rainbowhas both creative and destructive aspects; associated with life-giving waters (creative aspect) and flooding (destructive aspect)
    God PPawahtunvariant of God N
    God QKisin"demon"underworld god
    God RKab’earth (god)
    God SHun Ahaw01 Lordcorresponds to Hunahpu in the Popol Vuh
    God Y??one of a series of black deities; associated with deer hunting
    God Z??one of a series of black deities; may have associations with Venus. Variant of God L.

    Distance number: The Maya used distance numbers (x number of days) to count from one date to another in their calendar. In Maya almanacs, distance numbers are represented by bar-and-dot numbers (with each bar equal to 5 and each dot to 1), or by the “moon” glyph, which represents 20.

    Frame: Maya almanacs consist of one or a series of frames. In standard almanacs, a frame contains a hieroglyphic caption (generally consisting of four glyph blocks that are read in pairs from left to right and top to bottom); a black followed by a red (or outlined) bar-and-dot number; and a picture. Frames in circular and crossover almanacs are associated with multiple bar-and-dot numbers (distance number and coefficient pairs).

    Glyph: The Maya developed a highly sophisticated written language that was capable of representing the nuances of their spoken language. Rather than using letters to form words, they used signs or symbols called glyphs (a shortened form of the word hieroglyph). Glyphs can have either a phonetic value, meaning that they represent a syllable consisting of a consonant followed by a vowel (for example /pa/), or they can have a logographic value. Logographs are glyphs that represent words (such as “sun” or “god”) or parts of speech (such as prepositions or endings on verbs).

    Haab': The haab' is a 365-day calendar that approximates the length of the seasonal year (which is 365.2422 days in length). Dates in the haab' consist of a coefficient (or number) ranging from 0 to 19 or from 1 to 20 and a glyph referring to one of the 18 months of the haab'. Each of the months was 20 days in length, with a final 5-day period at the end of the year called Wayeb’.

    Iconography: The pictures associated with almanacs in the Maya codices are referred to as its iconography. Some terms used in the database that may not be familiar include:

  • Atlatl: A spearthrower.
  • Cenote: A large sinkhole filled with water.
  • Incensario: A receptacle, often made of pottery, for burning incense.
  • Skyband: A band of glyphs that usually occurs across the top of a register. The component glyphs represent objects or events in the sky, such as the sun, Venus, a star, or a solar or lunar eclipse.

    Long Count: A linear calendar used by the prehispanic Maya to place dates in absolute time. This method of dating was established during the Preclassic period, perhaps by the Olmec, and appears to have been astronomically motivated. The beginning of the current era (August 11, 3114 B.C.) may be linked to a solar zenith passage in the southern Maya area, whereas the end of the era (December 21, A.D. 2012) corresponds to the date of a winter solstice. Although not all Mayanists agree on the best means of correlating the Maya and Christian calendars, the two solutions preferred by most epigraphers today differ from each other by only two days.

    The Long Count is based on units of 20, rather than 10 as we use, and is organized as follows:

  • K'in: The smallest unit of the Long Count, equivalent to a day.
  • Winal: The second unit of the Long Count, equal to 20 k’ins, or 20 days.
  • Tun: A tun is equivalent to 18 winals, or 360 days. This deviation from the vigesimal (20-based) system allowed for an approximation of the solar year. (Note that there was a separate calendar, the haab', that was 365 days in length; see above.) 
  • K'atun: A period of 20 tuns, or 7200 days.
  • B'ak'tun: A period of 20 k'atuns, or 144,000 days.

    Month name: The Maya haab', or 365-day calendar, combines a coefficient ranging from 0 to 19 (or from 1 to 20 at later times) with a glyph representing the name of the month. There are 18 months of 20 days and a final 5-day period known as Wayeb’. The months are Pop, Wo, Sip, Sotz’, Tzek, Xul, Yaxk’in, Mol, Ch’en, Yax, Sak, Keh, Mak, K’ank’in, Muwan, Pax, K’ayab’, and Kumk’u.

    T numbers: T (or Thompson) numbers are used throughout the database to refer to glyphic elements. Eric Thompson developed this system in the 1960s as a means of cataloging glyphs and labeling them without assigning a value. Examples of glyphs referenced by T number in the database include:

  • T506 wah: This glyph represents a maize tortilla in some contexts and a maize seed in others. It is also used to refer to the 4th day in the Maya tzolk'in, K’an.
  • T526 kab’: This glyph means earth in some contexts and bee, honey, or beehive in others. It is also used to refer to the 17th day in the Maya tzolk'in, Kab’an.
  • T528 tun: This glyph means stone in most contexts, although it is also sometimes used to refer to the 360-day year (tun). It also refers to the 19th day in the Maya tzolk'in, Kawak.

    Term: For standard Maya almanacs, term is synonymous with frame; in other words, if there are 5 frames (numbered from 1 to 5), there are also 5 terms (labeled A through E). In circular and crossover almanacs, each distance number represents a separate term. Terms are labeled in the illustrations accompanying the database for circular almanacs only.

    Tzolk'in: The tzolk'in is a 260-day calendar used by the Maya and other Mesoamerican cultures for divination and prophecy. Tzolk'in dates consist of a number (or coefficient) ranging from 1 to 13 and a glyph referring to one of the 20 days of the tzolk'in. The starting point involves pairing the first number (1) with the first day name (Imix). One then moves forward by one day name and one coefficient for each of the 260 days in the cycle. The cycle ends on 13 Ahaw (day 260) and begins again on 1 Imix on the following day.

    Copyright (c) 2002-2005 by Gabrielle Vail.  All Rights Reserved