Sunday, December 16, 2012

What Time of Day Does the Ancient Maya Calendar Commence?

A Hypothesis on the start times of the 260 day tzolk’in, the 365 day haab 
and the Long Count Calendars

At what point during the day did Ancient Maya scribes commence the calendar count, at sunrise, noon, sunset, or midnight? The question becomes even more tangled with the realization that to signify a day there is not just one calendar in play but three: the 260 day tzolk’in, the 365 day haab and the Long Count. Did all three calendars start at the same initial hour or did each have their own distinct starting point (e.g. dawn, noon, sunset or midnight)?
How Maya scribes refer to a Calendar Round holds clues as to the respective starting point for each of the three calendars. Clues to a Calendar Round’s inner workings are found in a spurious set of inscriptions which Proskouriakoff and Thompson (1947) named “Puuc-Style Dates” where the numerical coefficient for the recorded month (the haab) was out of synchronization with the tzolk’in coefficient by one day. These researchers also noted that “Puuc-Style” dating occurred widely during the Late Classic in northern Yucatan and occasionally in lowland areas as well. In general, they saw the “Puuc-Style” dating as a local variant of a non-conformist calendar system that differed with the lowland calendar system by one day (Stuart 2004). Mathews (2001) addressed the question of “Puuc-Style” dating in his examination of the Dos Pilas Stela 8 text. The inscription recorded a Calendar Round date with a month coefficient that was obviously off by one day. Mathews did not attribute the miscalculation to scribal error or to the aberrant “Puuc-Style” counting system. He proposed that the tzolk’in and the haab calendars began at different times during the day. This idea assumes that the tzolk’in commences earlier than the haab or the Long Count cycles (Mathews 2001:406). Specifically, Mathews states:
Moreover, it is possible that the tzolk’in day and the haab day began at different times in the 24 hour day; if so, we could expect a minority of the dates to not be in the “normal” form. In other words: if, for example, the tzolk’in day began at 6:00 P.M., and the haab day began at 6:00 A.M., and some event took place at midnight, then the tzolkin date would be advanced one position over the haab date. Thus.  .  .  the date  2 Akbal 1 Kankin would after 6 P.M., be  3 Kan 1 Kankin―as recorded at H13-I13-and not until 6.00 A.M. the following day would the next “normal” date begin, viz.,  3 Kan 2 Kankin (Mathews 2001:406).
What Mathews posited was that the “Puuc-Style” dating was not an aberrant counting system, but rather the “error” of minus-one-day, revealed by the inner mechanics of a Calendar Round date. Mathews also noted that on nine examples of aberrant dates a “half-darkend k’in” sign preceded the errant date and posited that this glyph signals a nighttime event (Mathews 2001:406) [1]. In his final analysis he postulated a likely scenario for start times: the tzolk’in commenced at a prior sunset while the haab commenced at the following dawn.
David Stuart later championed Mathews’ insights with a paper titled The Entering of the Day: An Unusual date from Northern Campeche (Stuart 2004) where he examined the inscription carved on a door lintel from the Hecelchakan Museum reading  4 Muluk K’IN o-chi-ya tu-16 MAK. As Stuart noted:
The remarkable feature of the date record is the sign grouping o-chi-ya located between the day and the month glyphs. This can only be the verb ochiiy, ‘it entered’ . . . The mention of the day ‘entering’ within the haab suggests that we have been misled in thinking that northen Puuc-style dates simply reflect a localized structural change in the reckoning of time. Could it be that many of the ritual events commemorated in Puuc inscriptions—the vast majority of them are dedication rites—actually took place in the window of time between the turn of the haab and the arrival of the tzolkin—perhaps between midnight and dawn? . . . If these were nighttime rituals, scribes of the Puuc region may have been especially diligent in utilizing the subtle mechanisms of the Calendar Round to specify just when certain events took place within our own conception of a 24-hour day .  .  . (Stuart 2004:1-2).
Stuart continues to say that it is possible that the “Puuc-Style” dates are not a separate system after all but a calendar containing “nighttime indicators” recording night rituals. Yet, he differs with Mathews in theorizing the turning point between the two calendars and favors a separation by six hours rather than twelve, with the haab starting at midnight and the tzolk’in at dawn.
What is the proper turning point for each of the three respective calendars and how many hours they are out of sync from each another? The question will be resolved in two parts: (1) in a translation for “the half-darkened k’in” sign and (2) by looking at how a count of days (k’ins) is related to the haab and the Long Count. Recently, MacLeod and Schele (2005) jointly investigated and updated a catalogue of “Puuc-Style” dates within Maya inscriptions. They compiled additional evidence that the haab and the Long Count do indeed begin at sunrise and that it is the tzolk’in that is out of step by twelve hours. The first line of evidence concerns a reading for the “half darkened k’in” sign that often accompanies aberrant dates, as previously noted by Mathews. MacLeod (p.c. 2008) noted she proposed a reading in 1991 for this “half-darkend k’in” sign; the collocation is sometimes spelled yi-K’IN-ni and suggested the readings of chah-k’in or yi’h-k’in (for the variant with T135 /cha/ superfixed “darkened sun” and “aged sun” [2]. A darkened, aged, or black sun lends itself to the idea of “sunset” rather than just “night” and MacLeod posited that this glyph reflects a sunset position (MacLeod and Schele 2005)[3]. Additionally the logograph PAS for “dawn” is further evidence that Maya scribes recognized the horizon position of a dawning sun (p.c. MacLeod 2010). In her analysis and comparison of the errant dates on Dos Pilas Stela 8 and Yaxchilan Stela 18, MacLeod (p.c. 2005) saw a similar error pattern emerging. She noted:
[The Yaxchilan date of] 3 Eb given on the monument represents a tzolk’in that has advanced by one, ahead of the haab, just as 3 K’an at Dos Pilas represents a move forward by one in the tzolk’in. These two dates represent the same pattern. Both of these have moved ahead not only of the haab but also of the Long Count. I really think this is the key. The Long Count counts days―that’s what the ‘ones’ unit is  .  .  .  k’ins! .  .  . The monuments record not only a shift forward in the tzolk’in but also a half-darkened k’in sign―further evidence that the out-of-whack Calendar Round refers to a night event which immediately follows the correct Type III [normal] date in each case  .  .  . It is the tzolk’in which is out of step. Furthermore, it just makes good conceptual sense that a system that counts days as the Long Count should start those days when the day begins― at sunrise. Therefore, the only way the tzolk’in can get out of step is to change at sunset. I truly believe that this plus the specific mention of the half-darkened k’in (a perfect image of sunset) in these two critical cases is all the proof we need (p.c. MacLeod 2005).
For the sake of building an event-line horizon and plotting the starting points of all three calendars, the current study agrees with a combined Mathews and MacLeod/Schele hypothesis that: (1) the haab is in-step with the Long Count, (2) the tzolk’in is out-of-step with the haab by 12 hours, and (3) the tzolk’in begins at sunset 12 hours prior to haab at dawn.
This combined hypothesis now allows the proposal of a timeline corresponding to the solar trek. First, the two parts of the Calendar Round, the tzolk’in and the haab have separate starting points with the haab commencing at dawn and the tzolk’in starting at sunset 12 hours earlier. The Long Count (a count of suns) is synchronized with the haab solar calendar and therefore begins at dawn as well. A charted time-line (with a twelve hour shift between the tzolk’in and the haab) for the base date 4 Ajaw 8 Kumk’u is as follows:

4 AJAW ― DUSK (tzolk’in cycle starts) [+ 12 hours] DAWN (haab day and Long Count cycle start) [+12 hours] DUSK (tzolk’in cycle completes) [+ 12 hours] DAWN (haab day and Long Count day cycle complete the first day) —  8 KUMK’U

Only when the tzolk’in and haab have both completed their respective 24 hour cycles (totaling a span of 36 hours due to the 12 hour shift between both calendars) can the day be recorded as a complete elapsed day 4 Ajaw 8 Kumk’u. If the day records an action after the tzolk’in has finished its 24 hour cycle but prior to the haab completion, then the day and month coefficients of the Calendar Round are recorded out-of-sync by one day and therefore record a tzolk’in coefficient advanced by one day ahead of the haab date [4].

More grist for the mill.


[1] See Yaxchilan Stela 18 (A1-A3) for just such a date.

[2] A reading of yi-K’IN-ni as “black of the day” has also been recently proposed (Houston, Stuart and Chinchilla 2001:395).
[3] the yi-K’IN-ni sign also interchanges with glyph G9 of the Lords of the Night)
[4]A calendar with embedded with “nighttime indicators” (Stuart 2004) indicating current time within a 36 hour time span is disturbing to say the least. Past researchers have agreed in principle that the Maya never designated a present day or as an unfinished unit, but always treated the day as elapsed time; as Morley noted “the day recorded is yesterday because to-day can not be considered an entity until, like an hour of astronomical time, it completes itself and becomes a unit, that is yesterday” (Morely 1975:470). The Puuc dates are heretical indeed!

Works Cited 

Houston, Stephen  D. Stuart, and O. Chinchilla M. (eds.)

2011 The Decipherment of Maya Hieroglyphic Writing. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press.

MacLeod, Barbara and Elaine Schele
2005 The Puuc Heresy. Paper written for a seminar on Maya Hieroglyphic Writing, Department of Art History, University of Texas at Austin. Paper in possession of the authors.

Mathews, Peter
2001(1977) The Inscription on the Back of Stela 8, Dos Pilas, Guatemala. In:
TheDecipherment of Maya Hieroglyphic Writing, edited by S. D. Houston, D. Stuart, and 
O.Chinchilla M., pp. 394-415. Norman,University of Oklahoma Press.

Morley, Sylvanus Griswold
1975 An Introduction To The Study Of The Maya Hieroglyphs. New York: Dover

Proskouriakoff, Tatiana, and J. Eric S. Thompson
1947 Maya Calendar Round Dates Such as 9 Ahau 17 Mol. In: Notes on Middle American Archaeology and Ethnology, no. 79. Carnegie Institution of Washington, Division of Historical Research, Washington, D.C.

Stuart, David
2004  The Entering of the Day: An Unusual Date from Northern
Campeche. On-line at

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Carl Callaway's PhD Thesis: A Catalogue Of Maya Era Day Inscriptions

South Face of Quirigua Zoomorph P that contains an era day inscription
Well its official, I received notice from La Trobe University that my PhD was granted so I can finally share a copy of my dissertation on Maya era day inscriptions. I hope it is as rewarding for you to read as it was for me to research and write. All the source data for all known era day events (the verbs, the gods, the locations) is listed in the appendices for easy reference.  Here is the abstract :

The following work is a catalogue of all known era day inscriptions existing in the Maya hieroglyphic corpus originating from Classic Period Maya (250-900 AD) sites in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. It compiles those mythic texts that occurred within a single day— the inaugural date of the Maya Long Count and the establishment of a new cosmic era on 4 Ajaw 8 Kumk'u (August 11, 3114 BC). Although past reviews  of era day mythology have greatly expanded our knowledge of Maya mythic history, they do not give a complete inventory of all known passages. This project offers a full inventory of these sacred texts and scrupulously analyzes each component including the various era day events, gods and mythic locales. In addition, the work examines Maya myth from an emic perspective by evaluating the different genres of mythology found within Maya literature with the purpose of clarifying how myth acted as a living force within society. It includes a transliteration, transcription and translation of each passage followed by a commentary that explores each text’s mythic, historic, architectural and religious associations. Once compiled, the work attempts to organize these passages within a hypothetical narrative and produce a tentative reconstruction of the basic era day story. At the very least, this study seeks to provide an organized body of data for future researchers interested in the topic of Maya cosmology.

I've uploaded a copy of the thesis ontoGoogle Docs at (send me an email and I can give you access): 

Looking back on the project, I now understand the James Joyce quote: "Anything deeply considered is a pathway to the gods". The dissertation is but a small glimpse into the imago mundi of ancient Maya cosmology and how myth gave birth to the Maya universe.

All the Best in 2012,


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

ARCHAEOASTRONOMY Volume XXIV: The Maya Calendar & 2012 Phenomenon Studies

ARCHAEOASTRONOMY Volume XXIV: is now available. The issue includes the following papers on the topic of 2012 studies:

The Maya Calendar and 2012 Phenomenon Studies: An Introduction
John B. Carlson

The Maya Long Count Calendar: An Introduction
Mark Van stone

It’s Not the End of the World: What the Ancient Maya Tell Us about 2012
Mark Van stone

Primordial Time and Future Time: Maya Era Day Mythology in the Context of the
Tortuguero 2012 Prophecy
Carl D. Callaway

The Sidereal Year and the Celestial Caiman: Measuring Deep Time in Maya Inscriptions
Michael J. Grofe

Maya Mythology: Only One Reference to 2012?
Erik Boot

Holding the Balance: The Role of a Warrior King in the Reciprocity between War and
Lineage Abundance on Tortuguero Monument 6
BarBara MacLeod

Anticipating the Maya Apocalypse: What Might the Ancient Day Keepers Have
Envisioned for December 21, 2012?
John B. Carlson

New Age Sympathies and Scholarly Complicities: The History and Promotion of the
2012 Mythology
John w. Hoopes

2,012 by 2012? The “Impending Apparent End” of the “2012” Publishing Phenomenon
Kevin a. Whitesides

The issue is now being printed and bound by University of Texas Press Journals and will be mailed out to subscribers around the middle of August. 

Here is the URL from the UT Press;

Friday, July 27, 2012

New 2012 Inscription Found at La Corona Guatemala

Among the many new exciting finds at La Corona was a hieroglyphic stairway containing several beautifully carved panels, one of which records another 2012 passage! For a preliminary report on the text, see David Stuart's Blog Post at: 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Analysis of the Term K’ojob in Era Day Expressions

The jehlaj k'ojob expression is the most widely quoted of all era day events in Maya inscriptions and it refers to the changing of a pedestal or altar at the start of the current era on             4 Ajaw  8 Kumk'u or August 11/13 3114 BC, the "zero" date of the Maya Long Count calendar. Here is an example from from Stela C, East side (block B6) of Quirigua, Guatemala:

JEL-[la]ja k’o-ba collocation from Quirigua Stela C
(Drawing by Annie Hunter) 

The item that is being changed is the k'ojob. The term is not well understood since it occurs very rarely in the inscriptions.  I thought a further inquiry into this enigmatic term might shed some light on the subject since so much of how we interpret this climatic era day event depends on knowing the type of the object that is being changed. The term k’ojob is found on the following era day monuments[1]:

Coba Stela 1, back (N18)
Chichen Itza, The Caracol (Structure 3C15), Panel 1, Right Lateral Face (R9)
Copan Stela 23, sides “A” (D7-D9) and “C” (F1)
La Corona Altar 4 (A’1)
Palenque, Temple of the Cross, Main Panel (D6)
Palenque, Temple of the Sun, Main Panel (E1)
Piedras Negras, Altar 1, Fragment B (L2)
Quirigua Stela C, East side (B6)

In all these cases, the word is spelled using two syllabic signs /k’o-/ and /-b’a/, with the intial /k’o-/ syllable spelled using the T220 sign that is a depiction of a clinched, downward pointing fist (Thompson 1962:449; Boot 2008:9). The /k’o/ syllable was first deciphered by Linda Schele based on a k’o-jo or k’oj for “mask” spelling on a Site R, Lintel 2 text associated with a figure wearing a mask (Schele 1991:108). Early in the decipherment of era day texts, it was proposed that the term k’ob might read yeb for “his stair” (Macleod 1991) with the T220 holding a syllabic value of /ye-/ (the T220 sign is very similar to the T710 /ye-/ sign representing the profile of a partially open right hand). As the meaning syllabic signs progressed, it became clear that T220 and T710 held distinct values of /k’o/ and /ye/ respectively. Schele used the /k’o/ value for T220 to derive k’oh, the word for “image/mask” on the Palenque Cross Tablet (D6) (while discounting the very prominent /–b’a/ syllable sitting directly under the /k’o-/ ) as well as on the K6593 Panel (block A4) (Schele 1992:122-123 and 127; Freidel et al. 1993:65-67 and page 70-71). Schele also applied the /k’o-/ value to a translation in the Quirigua Stela C era day text (B6) and arrived at a slightly different spelling than that on the Palenque Temple of the Cross example (this time incorporating the /-b’a/ syllable into the word) with a reading of k’ohba for “image or statue” (Schele 1992:123; Freidel et al. 1993:67). More recently, Freidel and MacLeod (2000) proposed a new reading for the subject of the era day expression at Palenque and Quirigua:
First of all, reevaluation of the Creation text at Quirigua C shows that the k’ohba “images(s)” reading was probably not correct. The subject of the “crossed planks” verb in Kan-Balam’s Palenque Creation texts, and in others, must be k’oob “hearth”, “trivit”, found in Yucatec k’ooben “hearth, hearthstones, kitchen with cognates in Kekchi “k’ub”; Chorti and Cholti “chub”- probably glottalized: ch’ub
The term was now thought to represent “hearthstone” and it relates to the colonial Yucatec Maya word for  k’ob’en “kitchen, hearth” that is composed of three stones on which a cooking griddle sits (cf. Barrera Vásquez 1980:406, after Boot 2009:9). This new reading has had favor among leading epigraphers in the field yet, others employ a more generalized term of “tripod” rather than hearthstone (Looper 2003:226).
The term k’ob is used in the inscriptions outside the context of era day expressions and these additional uses offer evidence toward its spelling and insights into its meaning (p.c. Péter Bíró 2008). Additional spellings of the word occur on Copan Structure 30, Altar 19469 (A1) (Schele 1990; Andrews 2005 et al. 2005:285-287) and Yaxchilan Hieroglyphic Stairway 5, Step 16 (block 81) (Boot 2009:111). The Copan altar is circular in shape and flat-topped; it is 30 cm in diameter and 8 cm thick and has wheel-like shape. A glyphic text is carved on its perimeter edge; the text “states that u yak’ chaak was brought out or manifested at the celebration of Yax Pasaj’s first k’atun of rule, and the ceramic effigy referred to is the yitah yahawil  “the companion of the lord or his office” (Andrews et al. 2005:287). This small circular altar makes an ideal platform on which the effigy indicated most probably sat. Notice how scribes spell the k’ob term on this Copan altar and on the Yaxchilan steps by adding the interior syllable /-jo-/ :

Copan Str.30 Altar 19469 (A1-A6):u-JEL k’o-jo-ba u ya-k’u CHAAK-ki .  . .

Yaxchilan Stairway 5 Step 16 (block 81):  .  .  .  k’o-jo-ba-li ye-TE’-je u-chan ta-ja-mo’-o? aj-15-ba-ki k’uhul-“YAX EG?”-[AJAW] KALOM-TE’

These two cases spell the term with the interior /-jo-/ syllable indicating that the word may be under-spelled in other cases when written as k’o-ba. The Copan example is especially telling since it occurs in phrase that uses the same verb jel collocation as in the era day expression by recording “the next k’ojob (of) uyak’u chaak[2] The item possessed by uyak’u chaak is the k’ojob or the round flat-topped altar itself on which the inscription is written. Here is a photo of a cast of the Copan altar:

Copan Structure 30, Altar 19469
(Photo by Carl Callaway)

Here is close up of the main event. Note the addition of the /-jo/ syllable above the /-ba/ sign:

u-JEL k’o-jo-ba collocation on Copan Structure 30, Altar 19469
(photo by Carl Callaway)

 In the Yaxchilan example,  k’o-jo-ba-li ye-TE’-je u-chan ta-ja-mo’-o? aj-15-ba-ki k’uhul-“YAX EG?”-[AJAW] KALOM-TE’ the possessor of the k’ojobil is the king Itzamnaj Balam III the “guardian” and captor of Torch Macaw[3]. So, the question arises:  What is the meaning of k’ojob? Does the term name a particular flat-topped stone or a hearth stone? The full spelling of the term as k’o-jo-ba argues against the previous derivation as k’o-ba and a classification as a hearthstone.  
One more example of the term k’ob comes from the site of Joyanca  where it is part of a standard dedicatory phrase for another small circular altar (very similar in shape and size to the previous Copan altar) from Structure 6E-12 thought to be used as an incensario stand (Formé 2006:06). David Stuart transcribed the glyph blocks A2-C1 as: T’AB'AY u-k’o-b’a TUN-ni-li? (Formé 2006:06) Like on the Copan altar, the item indicated by the k’o-ba spelling is the circular altar that is being dedicated. The Joyanca stone, with its flat top is ideal for an effigy stand. It is difficult to ascertain given the present evidence, if the k’ojob refers to the altar/pedestal stone itself, or to the effigy/god it supports, or the altar/pedestal stone and the effigy/god together (p.c.  Barbara Macleod 2011). Based on the current evidence stated, the proper spelling of the term is k’o-jo-ba for k’ojob and may translate as a flat-topped, circular stone altar.
In a counter opinion David Stuart (2011a:216-219) interprets the term under consideration as not k’ojob but k’oj meaning “image,” “mask” or “face” with the /–ba/ suffix attached at the end of k’oj  root serving apparently as an instrumental suffix[4]. The new glyphic phrase reads something like jelaj k’oj baah for “the face-image changed” (Stuart 2011a:219)[5] with k’oj being in this case “image.” Stuart offers the following explination:
Perhaps the word k’oj refers to masks, images, or faces that should be equated in some manner with the three sacred stones dedicated on that day by the gods. I suggest this as a possibility because we’ve long known that the three stone heads or masks along a celestial band comprise an important cosmological symbol for the Classic Maya, most often manifested as small portrait heads attached to “sky belts” worn by Maya kings as part of the ceremonial costume for period-ending rituals. The “change of masks” might then, refer to the idea of the cosmos getting a new identity of some type― a makeover of sorts―which in turn became symbolically reflected in the ritual dress of Maya Kings, and especially in their cosmic belts (Stuart 2011a:12).
The new Stuart hypothesis is difficult to adopt in the face of such a strong correspondence between the object named in the dedicatory passage on the altars/pedestal stones from Joyanca and Copan.

Hopefully in the future, additional texts using the k’ojob term will come to light and help clarify its essential meaning and semantic domain.

[1] See Quirgua Stela F, west side, block B16 and Quirgua Zoomorph P, South text, blocks M3a-M2a for other JEL k’o-b’a expressions on non-related era day monuments.

[2] The presence of the /u-/ prefix attached to the term jel derives a type of “change” similar to the word “next” where the subject is coming immediately after a previous change (p.c. Barbara MacLeod 2012).

[3] The mention of the k’ojobil on Yaxchilan Hieroglyphic stair, block 81 is in conjunction with a possible capture event (block 72) on the day  7 Chuen 19 K’ayab  (blocks 70-71) and a date that is also shared on Yaxchilan Stela 5 (p.c. Peter Mathews 2012).

[4] Normally, Ch’olan languages attach an instrumental suffix to an intransitivized verbal root in order to derive a noun that indicates the instrument used to perform or achieve the action indicated by the verb (p.c. Sven Gronemeyer 2011). Schumann Gálvez gives the following definition in his 1997 Mopán grammar: “.  .  . se coloca después de una raíz verbal para señalar instrumento que se usa o sirve para ejecutar aquello que la raíz verbal indica” (Schumann Gálvez 1997:82). As to how an instrumental suffix applies the root of a noun like k’oj is difficult at present to ascertain, but Yucatec for example also allows a derivation from a nominal base.

 [5] Interestingly Stuart’s reading of k’oj as “image” reflects back to a similar era day reading made by Linda Schele concerning the Kerr 6593 Panel. As Schele (1992:123) states, the key word “in the era expression is k’oh, k’ohba or kohob, all meaning ‘image’ or statue. Also she thought that “Ilahi yax k’oh” translated as “was seen, the image or statue”, and that “hal kohba” meant “appeared the image or statue” (Schele 1992:123; Freidel et al. 1993:65-66). Schele believed that the “image” referred to was a great earth turtle from whose cracked carapace the Maize God emerges (see K1892). Stuart (2011b) recently nullified Schele’s interpretation on K6593 Panel on the grounds of a faulty verb derivation and a misidentification of a historical ruler named yax k’oj ahk chak k’u-? Ajaw (Stuart 2011b). However he does not challenge Schele’s original assertion that the k’oj term spelled on Kerr Panel 6593 simply k’o-jo without the /–ba/ suffix.

Works Cited

Andrews, E. Wyllys, and Cassandra R. Bill

2005    A Late Classic Royal Residence at Copán. In: Copán The History of an Ancient Maya Kingdom. E. Wyllys Andrews and William L. Fash editors. School of American Research Advanced Seminar Series, Oxford.

Barrera Vásquez, Alfredo
            1980    Diccionario Maya Cordemex. Mexico: Ediciones Cordemex.

Boot, Erik
2002  A  Preliminary Classic Maya-English/English-Classic Maya Vocabulary Of Hieroglyphic Readings. .

2008 The Hand in Classic Maya Hieroglyphic Writing. Mesoweb. Available

2009a The Updated Preliminary Classic Maya – English, English – Classic Maya Vocabulary of Hieroglyphic Readings. On-line at:

Formé, Mélanie
2006    La cronologia ceramica de La Joyanca, Noroeste del Petén, Guatemala. BAR International Series 1572, Archeopress, Oxford, England.

Freidel, David, and Barbara MacLeod
2000    Creation Redux: New Thoughts on Maya cosmology from Epigraphy, Iconography, and Archaeology. In: The PARI Journal, A quarterly publication of the Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute, Vol. 1, No. 2, Fall 2000, Valerie Greene (ed.).

Freidel, David, Linda Schele, and Joy Parker
1993    Maya Cosmos: Three Thousand Years on the Shaman's Path. New York: Quill William Morrow.

Looper, Matthew G.
2003Lightning Warrior: Maya Art and Kingship at Quirigua. Austin: University of Texas     Press.

MacLeod, Barbara
1991    Maya Genesis: The First Steps. North Austin Hieroglyphic Hunch No. 5. Austin.

Schele, Linda
1990    Preliminary Commentary on the New Altar from Structure 30. Copán note 72. Copán, Honduras: Copán Acropolis Archaeology Project and the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia.
1991     Notebook for the XVth Maya Hieroglyphic Workshop at Texas. Austin, TX: Department of Art and Art History, University ofTexas.
1992    Workbook For The XVIth Maya Hieroglyphic Workshop At Texas. Austin, Texas: University Of Texas At Austin.

Schumann Gálvez, Otto

                1997    Introducción al Maya Mopan.Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. 290   p.Mexico.

Stuart, David
2011a The Order of Days: The Maya World And The Truth About 2012. New York: Harmony Books.
Stuart, David
2011b  Reinterpreting a “Creation” Text from Chancala, Mexico. Maya Decipherment Web Blog, on the web at:

Thompson, J. Eric S.

1962    A Catalog Of Maya Hieroglyphs. Oklahoma: University Of Oklahoma Press.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Rediscovery of the Maya Era Date 4 Ajaw 8 Kumk'u

Era day passage from Palenque, Temple of the Cross, Main Panel (Photo by  by Paul Johnson)

The rediscovery of the base date of the Maya Long Count was claimed two early Maya scholars: J.T. Goodman and Ernst  Förstemann. But as we shall see, it was Förstemann who must be given proper credit for discovery of the inaugural date. Initially, Goodman surveyed the calendar data largely from the stone monuments and the corpus of inscriptions gathered by A.P. Maudslay while Förstemann analyzed the dates and inscriptions in the Dresden Codex, one of the few surviving handbooks of a Maya priest.
In the commentary “The Archaic Maya Inscriptions” appearing in February of 1897 the Volume VI Appendix of A. P. Maudslay’s great work “Biologia Central Americana”, Goodman (1897:10) described how he labored for well over “seven years” to reconstruct the values of the Maya Long Count from numerical signs (the “bar and dot” and “head variants” of numbers) of the stone inscriptions and from calendar and mathematical data gleaned from the writings of Diego de Landa and Pío Pérez. He states quite emphatically that:
“I ascertained the first cycle [the bak’tun] was composed of twenty katuns . . . I finally deduced a chronological calendar . . . and after reversing the process, succeeded in restructuring the outline of the entire Archaic chronological scheme . . .” (Goodman 1897:13).
Yet curiously on page 93 of his 1897 work, he offers an example of the 4 Ajaw 8 Kumk’u era date reckoning not from the stone inscriptions to which he was intimately familiar but from page 51 and 52 of the Dresden Codex Lunar Tables! This leads one to suspect that Goodman was aware of Förstemann’s previous 1887 deductions from the Dresden Codex concerning the era date and had knowledge of the German scholar’s early discoveries (Thompson 1971:30). Goodman tables do indeed provide the era day base date in conjunction with their Long Counts. About the era date on page 51 of the Dresden Codex, Goodman (1897:93) states that the 4 Ajaw 8 Kumk’u date is “the beginning of the 54th great cycle of the Archaic era.” What does he mean by the 54th great cycle? At the time, Goodman (1897:25) believed that the Initial Series Introductory Glyph (ISIG) represented various Great Cycles where one “Great Cycle” equaled 13 bak’tuns. These “Great Cycles” in turn produced an even larger “Grand Era” that was comprised of 73 “Great Cycles.” At the end of the “Grand Era” the day name and month repeat the same calendar positions[1]. In Goodman’s view the era date was but one of many probable starting points and one that corresponded with the current cycle of 1-13 bak’tuns. Goodman did not offer a straightforward mathematical explanation of how he arrived at the era date. The calculations are inferred from his Long Count charts representing the “54th Great Cycle.” The charts note the “ 54th Cycle” begins with the date 4 Ajaw 8 Kumk’u. Already, Goodman (1897:127, 135) anticipates the idea that the era date and the Great Cycles are related to some great time station by which the calendar returns to a start date and is renewed. Goodman could have reckoned the era date from Maudslay’s drawings of Quirigua Stela C and Palenque’s Temple of the Cross Sanctuary Panel, both of which record the era date which no doubt was verifiable against his Long Count charts and calculations of Maya dates
In the later part of the 1880s E. Förstemann (1904:403) in his examination of the Dresden Codex, reckoned the era date for the Long Count since it served as a base date for the Venus Table calculations as well as several other almanacs. Förstemann saw the zero date being employed for a start date on page 24, 51, 60, 62, 63, and 69 of the Dresden Codex (Förstemann 1906:115, 197, 222, 224, 234). By 1887 in “Zur Entzifferung der Mayahandschrift”Förstemann announced that the Long Count was indeed reckoned from a 4 Ajaw 8 Kumk’ubase date and was able to explain the rational of “Ring Numbers” or numbers that were used to count backward from a base date. In his essay “Aids To Deciphering Maya Manuscripts”, Förstemann restates his earlier discovery:
“A perfectly exact computation was attained only by deciding on some fixed day (the creation of the world, perhaps, or the birth of a principle god) as a point of departure, and by counting the days from zero point . . . this important day is a 4 Ahau 8 Cumku” (Förstemann 1904:399).
Here, Förstemann attaches more than a mathematical importance to the era base date and delves into the possible mythic significance of the day. He conjectures that the date could signify a greater meaning and relate to some cosmogonic or theogenic act of creation. It would be nearly seventy years until such speculation was visually verified with the discovery of the Vase of the Seven Gods (Coe1973:106-109). It was Förstemann then, who was also first to speculate on the mythic significance of the base date.
Eduard Seler (1904:26) in his paper “The Mexican Chronology” also gives credit to his German colleague for the discovery noting that:
“In a paper presented before the International Americanists Congress in at Berlin E. Förstemann, to whom we owe so many discoveries, especially in regard to the mathematics in the Dresden manuscript, furnished proof that . . . the day 4 Ahau (4XX), the eighth of the month Cumku (the last of the eighteen festivals), is to be regarded as zero mark” (Seler 1904:26).
As to Goodmann’s claim of discovery of the era base, the current researcher has not found any written rebuttal by Förstemann noting his opinion on the matter. However, it is clear the German scholar thought lowly of the American’s contributions to field by sourly noting elsewhere :
“In his work “The Archaic Maya Inscriptions,” 1897, which on the whole, contains more imagination than of science  .  .  .” (Förstemann 1906:233)
Thompson (1971:300) finally weighed in on the question of discovery with the evidence against Goodman’s claims:
“Irrefutable evidence, however, that Goodman had read Förstemann comes from his own pen. In discussing the chronological calendar, Goodman writes, ‘It has been known that the Mayas reckoned time by ahaus (e.g. tuns), katuns, cycles (e.g. baktuns), and great cycles (e.g. pictuns).’ That information is in that none of the early sources, but was brought to light only through the studies of Förstemann. Furthermore, Brinton (1895) gives many details of Förstemann’s researches, including the reading of IS [Initial Series], and such matters as the glyphs for the katun and tun, in his Primer of Maya hieroglyphics, which surely must have come into Goodman's hands.”
Ultimately the field of Maya studies benefited from both Förstemann’s and Goodman’s early decipherments and calendar calculations that in the end proved that the mathematics of inscriptions and the codices were based on the same mathematical logic and their Long Count calendars were indeed reckoned from the same base date.

[1]Spinden (1969:36) sums Goodman’s argument for a “Grand Era” as follows: “Goodman sees a neater finish to the chronological problem in a round of 73 times 13 baktuns, which would bring not only the day but the month position back again as a terminal date of a great cycle. He argues that the great wheel of time began from a great cycle of 73 ending on a day 4 Ahau 13 Yax and that the great cycle of the era recorded in the inscriptions was really the 54th in order from this far off beginning.”

Works Cited
Förstemann, Ernst
1887    Die Maya-Handschrift der Koniglich-Sachsischen Bibliothek zu Dresden. Ascher, Dresden.
1904    Aids to The Deciphering Of The Maya Manuscripts. In: Mexican And Central American Antiquities, Calendar Systems, And History, Bureau Of American Ethnology, Bulletin 28 Edited by Charles P. Bowditch, pp. 397-407. Smithsonian Institution, Washington.
1906    Commentary of the Maya manuscript in the Royal Public Library of Dresden. Papers, 4(2), pp. 53-266.  Harvard University, Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology: Cambridge, MA.

Goodman, J.T.
1897    Archaic Maya inscriptions. In: Biologia Centrali-Americana; or Contributions to the 
Knowledge of the Fauna and Flora of Mexico and Central America. R. H. Porter
Washington D.C. 

Seler, Eduard
1904    The Mexican chronology, with special reference to the Zapotec calendar. In: Mexican And Central American Antiquities, Calendar Systems, And History, Bureau Of American Ethnology, Bulletin 28 Edited by Charles P. Bowditch, pp. 11-56. Smithsonian Institution Washington.

Spinden, Herbert J.
1969    Reduction of Mayan dates. In: Papers, 6(4)  Harvard University, Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology., Cambridge, MA

Thompson, J. Eric S.
1971    Maya hieroglyphic Writing: An Introduction. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.