I am going to teach you how to read that thing on the left over there. Over the next few posts you will learn about Mayan hieroglyphics and how to use their calendar.

The Maya used three different systems that coincided with another to make up their calendar. In this post I am going to talk about the Long Count, or how many days have passed since the day of creation. A Mayan Long Count date looks like this: 13.2.1.12.17

The first thing you need to know is that the Maya counted in a base 20 system, whereas we are used to a base 10 system. Starting from the right, each decimal represents a series of 20s. On the farthest right, called Kins, are 1s, essentially. In the above date there are 17 kins, or 17 days. To their left are Uinals. This is the only funky thing in the whole system. Instead of 20 Uinals, there are only 18. Bear with me. Each Uinal represents 20 Kins. In the above date there are 12 Uinals, which means that there are 240 Kins. Moving left, the next number is Tuns. Each Tun represents 18 Uinals. There is 1 Tun in the above date. That means that there are 18 Uinals, or 360 Kins. Once more to the left and on to Katuns. Each Katun is 20 Tuns. Getting the pattern? And finally the number farthest to the left is Baktuns.

Here, this chart will help.

We can see that in the date 13.2.1.12.17 there are 13 Baktuns, 2 Katuns, 1 Tun, 12 Uinals and 17 Kins. If we do the math we see that 1,872,000 (13 Baktuns) + 14,400 (2 Katuns) + 360 (1 Tun) + 240 (12 Uinals) + 17 (17 Kins) = 1,887,017. So 1,887,017 days have passed in this Mayan Long Count date.

Now, since the Maya used glyphs, we have to figure out which glyphs stand for which numbers. Each different place value has a different glyph. They are following.

The final piece of the puzzle is telling what the number is. The Maya did this two ways. They used personified numbers, which I will get into in another post, or they used a series of symbols. Since they used a base 20 system, their symbols needed to be able to count up to 19. They used bars and circles. Each bar represents 5, and each circle represents 1. So if there are three bars and two circles the number is 17.

Also, the Maya wrote in columns of 2. You read left to right. So for example, the numbers in this script represent glyphs. You would read it following the numbers.

1 2 7 8

3 4 9 10

5 6 11 12

Here’s that first glyph again. Can you find the Long Count date? The big glyph at the top is a start glyph. It essentially says “Start here.”

The last two glyphs represent the Tzolkin and Haab calendars, the other two pieces of the puzzle that I will explain later. So this date is 13.0.0.0.0, or the start of the Mayan calendar, the day of creation. Pretty cool, right? Stick around and we will learn about the other two cycles.

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