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The Maya were an indigenous people who lived throughout Mexico and Central America from about 800 B.C. to 1100 A.D. The Mayan society was thought to be the most complex and sophisticated in the world at the time. The Maya were responsible for incredible achievements in astronomy, agriculture, math, engineering and technology. Although there are several theories on why they eventually faded into history, historians and archaeologists still have not come to a consensus. 




Among the most notable of Maya achievements were its calendars. The Calendar Round was a 52-year system that tracked time in two overlapping cycles. The first cycle, called Tzolk’in, was a religious cycle in which 20 day-names were combined with the numbers 1-13, to give each of the 260 resulting days a unique identifier. 


The second system, called the Haab', was a 365-day long solar cycle. The Haab' had eighteen 20-day months, and one five-day month. The five-day month was called a "wayeb." 


Every day had a day number and name in the Tzolk’in and a day and month name in the Haab'. After 52 years, both the Tzolk’in and the Haab' reset on the same day. Because the calendar reset itself after 52 years, it proved impossible to record history and events chronologically. 


The Long Count


In order to assign events to a specific date in time, the Maya developed the Long Count calendar. The Long Count calendar measured time from the distant past. Scientists believe the start date was August 11 of the year 3,114 B.C. It lasted 1,872,000 days and ended on December 21, 2012 - which some people took to mean as a Mayan prophecy predicting the end of the world. The Long Count calendar was divided into cycles. It was similar to our current calendar, although its days were grouped into the following cycles based on the number 20: kin (one day), winal (20 days), tun (360 days), k'atun (720 days), and baktun (144,000 days). The base-20 system used by the Maya was called the vigesimal system.