Mathematics Throughout History

Math and Calendars in History

Why was the Mayan calendar so different?

The Mayan calendar was different because the culture didn’t have just one calendar, but many. The Calendar Round was a calendar based on what we would call a 52 year span. This was thought to be the average life span of an individual, broken into Haabs, or 18,980 days (or 52 times the number of days in a year, or 52 times 365 = 18,980). Mayan astronomers kept meticulous track of the cosmos, even keeping track of, and basing a calendar on, the movements of the planet Venus.

One of the most interesting Mayan calendars was the Long Count Calendar, which represents their longest periods of time. With such a calendar, the Mayans not only had enough “time” to record historic events past 52 years, but future events, too. Mayan scholars seem to think that the Long Count Calendar will run out of its first cycle in 5,126 years. Because of this, and by trying to coordinate our Gregorian calendar with the Mayan Long Count Calendar, the latest cycle ends in 2012. Doomsayers state that the Earth gets trashed at the end of the Long Count Calendar cycle—as if the Mayans had some mystical advice and abilities no one else did (or does) on the planet. Suffice to say, coordinating our modern calendar with the Mayan’s is not an accurate science—which probably means doomsday won’t be here any time soon. (For more information about the Mayan calendar, doomsday predictions, and the year 2012, see “History of Mathematics.”)


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