This was also recorded by the Mayan people. This gave the numbers of days elapsed since the start of a lunation, its position in a lunar half-year of six months, and its duration as a twenty-nine or thirty day moon. Each of these cycles is a cyclic count (we see this pattern repeated in all aspects of the Mayan recording of time), that, like a twelve-hour clock, repeats continually.
Initial and Lunar Series'The Initial Series simply refers to the two concurrently running systems - the Long Count and the Calendar Round. The Lunar Series' purpose is to fix in time the action being undertaken by the royal figure sculpted on the monument. For example, the act of an accusation, a war, a ceremony marking, or the conclusion of a grand event.
All of these organized patterns helped with the phenomenal calendar that the Mayan's had. "It has not slipped one day in 25 centuries," (Coe, 61). This accuracy displays how phenomenal this system was. This leads us to our next question. Why was this extremely accurate recording of time so important to the Mayans?
Purpose Surrounding Mayan TimeMichael D. Coe gives us the first insight into why the Mayan's placed specific dates on buildings and texts. "The ancient Maya liked to name things, and they liked to tell the world who owned these things. We shall find that even temples, stelae, and altars had their own names." Alsop also agrees with Coe. He explains that "In the larger context of world history of art...a signature on a work of art must be seen as a deeply symbolic act. By signing the artist says, in effect, I made this and I have the right to put my name on it."
To record this history, the first apparent area of purpose was found through the use of astrology and astronomy. The calculation of eclipse periods, lunar calendars, stars, and planets, played a very important role in the Maya calendar. For example, the Mayan's believed that Venus was an exceptionally malicious heavenly body. Considering this contradiction of terms "malicious heavenly body," it is also interesting to note, that the Venus deities were shown hurling weapons and making them themselves unpleasant. The cycle of Venus was also expressed with the use of numbers - by a ring of numbers equaling 584 days. The 584 days relates to the orbit of Venus. Notice that the count for Venus was also in a circle - as a ring.
Another main display of the Maya detail of the use of these calendar systems is through their architecture. Most, if not all, of the Maya buildings were built according to the direction of the sun, on specific dates. For example, there are three stone rings of Zempoala near the main pyramid. The three rings are surmounted by 13, 28, and 40 step-like pillars, respectively. It appears that the stone monuments were used by the Totanac priests as counting devices to keep track of eclipse cycles.
There is also amazing accuracy while overlooking Tikal. Between Temple I, II, III, IV, and V, they all have a unique purpose in location. Temple II serves not only as an architectural counterweight to Temple I, but also as a horizon marker for the enigmatic "eight degrees west of north" orientation viewed from Temple V. Temple III defines the equinoctial sunset positions as seen from Temple I, while being the highest of the skyscraper pyramids. Temple IV fixes the sunset position on August 13 as seen from Temple I, (Malmstrom, 169).
Another significant monument at Tikal is known as Stela 29, exhibited as the earliest known and well-known inscriptions in the Maya lowlands with a Long Count date of 292 A.D. For archaeologists, Stela 29 is an approximate marker for the beginning of the Mayan Classic period, an era during which the Long Count was used on countless Maya inscriptions, (Price, 318).
Perhaps one of the most famous monuments is the Temple at Chichen Itza. This has been recognized as an astronomical observatory whose foundations are Mayan and whose adornments are Toltec. Perhaps the most significant alignments of this structure are those of its front door and its principal window, located just above it, both of which look out at the western horizon toward the sunset position on August 13, (Malmstrom, 157). Most of the dates on monumental inscriptions are associated with events in the lives of kings who built the monuments. Still, it is not unusual to find that some of those dates are marked with astronomical references.
The calendar was also valued among the Maya people because it helped them maintain accuracy during their planting and harvesting season. The Maya believed that these cycles of planting and harvesting were larger symbols relating to the creation and destruction of the world. They were also concerned with the birth of the gods and the origin of humankind. The knowledge of stars was also used to tell the time of night and to help determine the time of year for ritual and agricultural plans. The Maya would probably have considered many questions while deciding on planting and harvesting goals. For example, "What disease or pestilence of people and crops must we act upon to ward off today? Or, which patron god should be paid the debt of incense? And what time is he fit to receive it in which particular temple?," (Aveni ). With many of these questions to consider, the Maya maintained, through precise use of their calendar, a very efficient planting and harvesting season, which was also always correlated with celestial worship. Even seen today, in modern Maya communities, the sun is still a ruler of the cosmos for these people. It's annual passages were, and still are, used to fix dates in the agricultural calendar.
One of the biggest reasons why the Mayan's kept such an accurate account of time was for religious purposes. Many of the sacrifices and times of worship were required to be precise on the month, day, and year. They used their system of time as a tool to manage these cosmic forces. For example, the end of a katun points every fifth year to the occasion of public ceremonies that featured the bloodletting of the king. The Maya believed that significant moments in time had links with divinities and astrologically based prophecies, and these associations were known, and should be recorded. Time was not just a specific moment in existence when one needed to be at a meeting, or meet a friend. Time became a life or death situation for the Maya - especially during their sacrificial games and bloodletting ceremonies.
Finally, time was used to record historical records and genealogies. These were used to make their mark on the history of the universe, and prove themselves to deities.
The Maya developed their complex calendric system in order to locate the events of their lives precisely within its temporal framework. The information featured in their inscriptions - the reason for the existence of these monuments in the first place, is the history of human events. The calendric systems and the manner of recording point in time are the products of history itself (Schele, 317).
Recording and preserving history was a major motive to create and use such an amazingly accurate calendar. Just as we write in journals or study in a history class, so too, did the Maya preserve their records for future generations to learn. In the book The Sky in Mayan Literature, Aveni points out the historical intention on calendric inscriptions. "Make no mistake, the written context of Maya monumental sculpture [and recording of time], though woven throughout by the thread of astronomical time, is concerned basically with dynastic history and political authority. It tells about marriages, alliances, captures, and battles.
Genealogies were also very important to the Maya. For example, the sarcophagus text found in Pacal's tomb in Palenque was inscribed with many dates, such as births, deaths, family lines, etc. These documents represent how important it was for the Maya to keep records (and also maintain a positive relationship with the gods).
Time TodayAs knowledge about the Maya progresses, it continues to become more clear that "The Maya were obsessed with royal histories, not time per se. The present view about the Mayan recording of time focuses on the principal theme of Maya inscriptions as a political or dynastic one," (Price, 324).
There are still unanswered questions that we continue to search for. What actually made the Maya so involved in astronomy and the study of the sky? How did astronomers acquire and decipher what they had seen? Were the Maya obsessed with time?
Eric Thompson comments on this remaining question, "Our outlooks are too far from the Maya and, on top of that terrible handicap, there are so many aspects of the problem which are imperfectly known or completely unknown to us."
How far away are our outlooks from the Maya? Do we not, as they did, record astronomy, history, births, deaths, even all of these studies with time? How dependent upon them are we?
We have seen the phenomenal brilliance in the construction of the Mayan calendar. Indeed, it is not a surprise that the Mayan system has gained the admiration of scholars. It is definitely a unique achievement. The importance of recording time is seen through Mayan monuments, astronomy and astrology, planting and harvesting cycles, celestial divinity, and dynastic records. The Maya invented a calendar of remarkable accuracy. Indeed, they were divine bearers of time. As progress continues to go forward, the closer we come to find the Mayan people in time. Where in time? That answer, lies beneath all of the knowledge the Mayan created in their calendar, so that one day, we might find them there.