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Tzolk'in (in the revised Guatemala Mayan languages Academy orthography which is now preferred, formerly and commonly tzolkin) is the name bestowed by Mayanist scholars upon the version of the 260-day Mesoamerican calendar which was used by the Maya civilization of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.

The tzolk'in, the most fundamental and widely-attested of all the Maya calendars, was based in the 26,000-year cycle of the Pleiades, and was a pre-eminent component in the society and rituals of the ancient Maya. The tzolk'in calendar remains in use amongst several Maya communities in the Guatemalan highlands. Its use is marginal but spreading in this region, although opposition from Evangelical Christian converts has erased it from some communities.

The word, meaning "count of days", was coined based on Yukatek Maya. The corresponding words in the K'iche' and Kaqchikel cultures of Guatemala, which have maintained an unbroken train of observance for over 500 years, are, respectively, Ajilabal q’ij and Cholq'ij. The actual names of this calendar as used by the pre-Columbian Maya are not known. The corresponding Postclassic Aztec calendar, probably based on extinct central Mexican observance, was called by them tonalpohualli, in the Nahuatl language.

The Maya used several cycles of days, of which the two most important were the Tzolk'in, or Sacred Round of 260 days and the approximate solar year of 365 days or Haab. The Sacred Round combined the repeating cycle of numbers 1-13 with 20 day names ... so that any particular combination would recur in 13 x 20 or 260 days; the day name and the number changed together: 1 Imix, 2 Ik, 3 Akbal ... as we might say Monday 1, Tuesday 2, Wednesday 3, and so on

Tzolk'in table of named days[]

The tzolk'in calendar combines a cycle of twenty named days with another cycle of thirteen numbers (the trecena), to produce 260 unique days (i.e., 20 × 13 = 260). Each successive named day was numbered from 1 up to 13 and then starting again at 1. There were 20 individual named days, as shown in the table below:

Tzolk'in calendar: named days and associated glyphs (in sequence)[1]
No. 1
Name 2
glyph example 3
glyph example 4
16th C.
Yucatec 5
Classic Maya 6
Associated natural phenomena
or meaning 7
01 Imix' MAYA-g-log-cal-D01-Imix MAYA-g-log-cal-D01-Imix-cdxW Imix Imix (?) / Ha' (?) waterlily
02 Ik' MAYA-g-log-cal-D02-Ik MAYA-g-log-cal-D02-Ik-cdxW Ik Ik' wind
03 Ak'b'al MAYA-g-log-cal-D03-Akbal MAYA-g-log-cal-D03-Akbal-cdxW Akbal Ak'b'al (?) darkness, night, early dawn
04 K'an MAYA-g-log-cal-D04-Kan MAYA-g-log-cal-D04-Kan-cdxW Kan K'an (?) maize
05 Chikchan MAYA-g-log-cal-D05-Chikchan MAYA-g-log-cal-D05-Chikchan-cdxW Chicchan (unknown) celestial snake
06 Kimi MAYA-g-log-cal-D06-Kimi MAYA-g-log-cal-D06-Kimi-cdxW Cimi Cham (?) death
07 Manik' MAYA-g-log-cal-D07-Manik MAYA-g-log-cal-D07-Manik-cdxW Manik Manich' (?) deer
08 Lamat MAYA-g-log-cal-D08-Lamat MAYA-g-log-cal-D08-Lamat-cdxW Lamat Ek' (?) Venus
09 Muluk MAYA-g-log-cal-D09-Muluk MAYA-g-log-cal-D09-Muluk-cdxW Muluc (unknown) jade, water
10 Ok MAYA-g-log-cal-D10-Ok MAYA-g-log-cal-D10-Ok-cdxW Oc (unknown) dog
11 Chuwen MAYA-g-log-cal-D11-Chuwen File:MAYA-g-log-cal-D11-Chuwen-cdxW.png Chuen (unknown) monkey
12 Eb' MAYA-g-log-cal-D12-Eb File:MAYA-g-log-cal-D12-Eb-cdxW.png Eb (unknown) rain
13 B'en MAYA-g-log-cal-D13-Ben File:MAYA-g-log-cal-D13-Ben-cdxW.png Ben (unknown) green/young maize
14 Ix MAYA-g-log-cal-D14-Ix File:MAYA-g-log-cal-D14-Ix-cdxW.png Ix Hix (?) jaguar
15 Men MAYA-g-log-cal-D15-Men File:MAYA-g-log-cal-D15-Men-cdxW.png Men (unknown) eagle
16 Kib' MAYA-g-log-cal-D16-Kib File:MAYA-g-log-cal-D16-Kib-cdxW.png Cib (unknown) wax
17 Kab'an MAYA-g-log-cal-D17-Kaban File:MAYA-g-log-cal-D17-Kaban-cdxW.png Caban Chab' (?) earth
18 Etz'nab' MAYA-g-log-cal-D18-Etznab File:MAYA-g-log-cal-D18-Etznab-cdxW.png Etznab (unknown) flint
19 Kawak MAYA-g-log-cal-D19-Kawak File:MAYA-g-log-cal-D19-Kawak-cdxW.png Cauac (unknown) storm
20 Ajaw MAYA-g-log-cal-D20-Ajaw File:MAYA-g-log-cal-D20-Ajaw-cdxW.png Ahau Ajaw lord, ruler

1. the sequence number of the named day in the Tzolk'in calendar
2. Day name, in the standardized and revised orthography of the Guatemalan Academia de Lenguas Mayas
3. An example glyph (logogram) for the named day, typical of monumental inscriptions ("cartouche" version). Note that for most of these several alternate forms also exist.
4. Example glyph, Maya codex style. When drawn or painted, most often a more economical style was employed; the meaning is the same. Again, variations to codex-style glyphs also exist.
5. Day name, as recorded from 16th century Yucatec language accounts, according to Diego de Landa; this orthography has (until recently) been widely used
6. In most cases, the actual day name as spoken in the time of the Classic Period (c. 200-900) when most inscriptions were made is not known. The versions given here (in Classical Maya, the main language of the inscriptions) are reconstructed based on phonological comparisons; a '?' symbol indicates the reconstruction is tentative.
7. Each named day had a common association or identification with particular natural phenomena

The Tzolkin does not have a generally-recognized start and end. Some view it as completely circular with no start, while others suggest different days for the "start". Taking one such suggestion:

  • 1 Imix is the first day of the Tzolkin.
  • 2 Ik
  • 3 Akbal
  • 4 Kan
  • 5 Chicchan
  • 6 Cimi
  • 7 Manik
  • 8 Lamat
  • 9 Muluc
  • 10 Oc
  • 11 Chuen
  • 12 Eb
  • 13 Ben is the 13th day of the Tzolkin
  • 1 Ix is the 14th day of the Tzolkin
  • 2 Men
  • 3 Cib
  • 4 Cabab
  • 5 Eznab
  • 6 Cauac
  • 7 Ahau
  • 8 Imix
  • 9 Ik
  • 10 Akbal
  • 11 Kan


  • 9 Cib
  • 10 Cabab
  • 11 Eznab
  • 12 Cauac
  • 13 Ahau is the 260th day of the Tzolkin.

It was used to determine the time of religious and ceremonial events and for divination.

Tzolkin is part of Maya Long Count Calendar.


Each of the twenty days is linked to a different god in Mayan mythology [2]

  • Imix : 'Crocodile' - the reptilian body of the planet earth, or world
  • Ik : 'Wind' - breath, life. Also violence.
  • Akbal : 'Night-house' - darkness, the underworld, realm of the nocturnal jaguar-sun. Also evil.
  • Kan : 'Maize' - sign of the young maize lord who brings abundance, ripeness. Also lizard, net.
  • Chicchan : 'Snake' - the celestial serpent
  • Cimi : 'Death'
  • Manik : 'Deer' - sign of the Lord of the Hunt
  • Lamat : 'Rabbit' - sign of the planet Venus, sunset.
  • Muluc : 'Water' - symbolized by jade, an aspect of the water deities, fish
  • Oc : 'Dog' - who guides the night sun through the underworld.
  • Chuen : 'Monkey' - the great craftsman, patron of arts and knowledge. Also thread.
  • Eb : 'Grass' or 'Point' - associated with rain and storms.
  • Ben : 'Reed' - who fosters the growth of corn, cane, and man.
  • Ix : 'Jaguar' - the night sun. Also maize.
  • Men : 'Eagle' - the wise one, bird, moon
  • Cib : 'Owl/Vulture' - death-birds of night and day. Also wax, soul, insect.
  • Caben : 'Earthquake' - formidable power. Also season, thought.
  • Etz'nab : 'Knife' - the obsidian sacrificial blade.
  • Cauac : 'Rain' or 'Storm' - the celestial dragon serpents and the chacs, gods of thunder and lightning.
  • Ahau : 'Lord' - the radiant sun god


Template:Section-stub The Tzolk'in was extensively used in Mayan inscriptions and codices. Symbolism related to the Tzolk'in is also observed in the Popol Vuh (which, though written in the early post-conquest period, is probably based on older texts). For instance, when Ixbalanque has set an impossible task for Ixquic of collecting a netful of corn from one stalk and Ixquic successfully completes it, she leaves the imprint of her net in the ground, and the day "net" is the opening of the Venus cycle which follows "ahau" ("ajpu" in K'iche'), just as her child is the heir of Hun Hunajpu.[3]

It is not known what other uses the ancient Maya had for it. However, among Mayan communities where its use has survived:

  • This 260 periods was, and is used for precise cycles in the Maize cultivation.( The zenith transit days may have been circumstantially significant for agriculture along the south coast of Guatemala. The April 30 zenith transit occurs just before the beginning of the rainy season. Farmers in the region presently plant their corn at the end of April or early in May. In August 13 zenith transit the Maya initiate its current era in this day', approximates the time of the harvest of the dried corn.
  • In the modern Guatemalan highlands, several groups use this period in the training of the Aj k'ij, the keeper of the 260-day-calendar. It is nine months after the beginning of training in divination that the young novice is actually "born" and solemnly initiated into his office. Thus, in the perception of the Maya, man and calendar have the same roots; they are both of the same lunar origin.
  • There are certain repeating rituals which are performed every 260 days on the same day. Most famous is the "New Years'" celebration of 8 Chuwen, known in the K'iche language spoken in Momostenango as Waxakib' B'atz.
  • Certain days are seen as more or less suitable for certain actions. For instance, a a low-numbered Ak'ab'al or B'en would be a good day for a wedding, whereas K'an would be a good day for building or maintaining a house.
  • Tedlock, in Momostenango, reports an extensive system of divination based on casting lots and counting forward through the calendar from the current day to arrive at certain days which are then interpreted. This is not pure cleromancy because somatic twitches of "blood lightning" can either be specifically consulted or arise spontaneously during the process.
  • Many traditional mayan names are based on calendar days, often birthdays. As in astrology, personal characteristics are associated with birthdays.

The Tzolk'in is the basis for the modern, New Age invention of the "Dreamspell" calendar, developed by the esoteric author Jose Arguelles. The Dreamspell calendar is sometimes mistakenly identified as an authentic interpretation or extension of the original Maya calendar, although Arguelles himself acknowledges the Dreamspell calendar is intended as a new and synchretic creation, which is inspired by elements combined from a number of different esoteric sources.

Origins and purpose[]

Use of the 260-day calendar was widespread across all of the Mesoamerican cultural region, and it is regarded as being the oldest and most important of the calendar systems attested in the region, with an origin pre-dating its first appearances in Maya inscriptions.[4] . It is uncertain which Mesoamerican culture first developed this calendar. Stelae with the earliest known Long Count dates come from this general area some of the oldest unargued calendric inscriptions in this format are from the early Zapotec phases in the Oaxacan highland valleys at sites such as Monte Albán, dating from the mid 1st-millennium BCE. A few earlier-dated inscriptions and artifacts have what appear to be calendric glyphs, such as at San José Mogote and in the Olmec Gulf Coast region. However, either the dating method or the calendric nature of the glyphs have been disputed by some scholars.[5]

The original purpose of devising such a calendar, with no obvious relation to any astronomical or geophysical cycle, is not securely known, but there are several theories. One theory is that the calendar came from mathematical operations based on the numbers thirteen and twenty, which were important numbers to the Maya. The number twenty was the basis of the Maya counting system, taken from the number of human fingers and toes. (See Maya numerals). Thirteen symbolized the number of levels in the Upperworld where the gods lived, and is also cited by modern daykeepers as the number of "joints" in the human body (ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, wrists, and neck). The numbers multiplied together equal 260.

Barbara Tedlock, studied this system among some modern Maya, in the municipality of Momostenango in highland Guatemala, an ethnically K'iche' town. She went to the extent of serving a formal apprenticeship in the divining technique with a local adept, and was initiated as a diviner in 1976. She says: "The Momostecan calendar embraces both the 260-day cycle and the 365-day solar year, with the four Classic Maya Year-bearers, or Mam, systematically linking the two. The 260-day cycle is conceived as linked firmly to worldly or earthly affairs, mirroring no astronomical period but rather the period of human gestation. Past ethnographic accounts of this cycle contain various conflicting opinions as to what its first day is, but a comparison of the present results and those of previous studies indicates that there is no fixed first day.

Aveni, believes there is no one answer. But he says: "Once a Maya genius may have recognized that somewhere deep within the calendar system lay the miraculous union, the magical crossing point of a host of time cycles: 9 moons, 13 times 20, a birth cycle, a planting cycle, a Venus cycle, a sun cycle, an eclipse cycle. The number 260 was tailor made for the Maya Aveni proposes that the Mayans used a Venus calendar in the way other astronomers have used a solar calendar. He suggests that the "Venus Table" in the Dresden Codex, is an accurate ephemeris for making predictions of Venus positions. Aveni also notes that the basic agricultural cycle in highland Guatemala is also about 260 days, called a tzolkin. There may also be a relation with the average length of time it takes between appearances of the planet Venus as morning or evening star, which is in round numbers 263 days. Aveni notes that "the average duration between successive halves of the eclipse season, at 173 ½ days, fits into the tzolkin in the ratio of 3 to 2." This may seem contrived, but there is evidence that the Maya used the tzolkin to predict positions of Venus and occurrences of eclipses.

Another theory is that the 260-day period came from the length of human pregnancy. This is close to the average number of days between the first missed menstrual period and birth, unlike Naegele's rule which is 40 weeks (280 days) between the last menstrual period and birth. It is postulated that midwives originally developed the calendar to predict babies' expected birth dates.[6]

One hypothesis put forward by several researchers such as Vincent Malmström[7] identifies a correlation between the 260-day cycle and an observable natural phenomenon concerns the 260-day gap between zenithal transits of the sun. According to this hypothesis, the 260-day cycle originated in the narrow latitudinal band (14º42'N to 15ºN) in which the sun is vertically overhead about 12-13 August and again 260 days later about 30 April-l May (Malmström identifies the proto-Classic Izapan culture as one suitable candidate at this latitude). This period may have been used for the planting schedule of maize. However, a number of other researchers have raised objections to this conception, including noting that while the 260-day calendar runs continuously the interval between autumn-spring and spring-autumn positions alternates between 260 and 105 days, and that the earliest-known calendric inscriptions are from considerably further north of this zone.[8] Consequently this theory is not widely supported.

It is of course also possible that the number 260 is multiply determined, that it was noted as repeating for some combination of the above reasons, or for unknown reasons, and thus chosen as a basis for the calendar.

See also[]


  1. The modern orthography and reconstructed Classic Maya names in the table follow the summary provided in Kettunen and Helmke (2005). The associations are based on Miller and Taube (1993), p.49.
  2. Ronald Wright 'Time Among the Maya', Abacus Travel, london 1989
  3. Dennis Tedlock (translator and editor), "Popol Vuh: The Definitive Edition Of The Mayan Book Of The Dawn Of Life", 1996
  4. Miller and Taube (1993), pp.48–50.
  5. See Lo's summary at Mesomerican Writing Systems (n.d.).
  6. See for e.g. Miller and Taube (1993), pp.46 and 48.
  7. Malmström (1973); other earlier researchers who have put forward similar views include Zelia Nuttall (1928) and Ola Apenes (1936).
  8. . See for example the separate review comments to Malmström's 1973 paper by John Henderson and Arthur Fitchett and their associated citations, appearing in the 9 August 1974 edition of Science (reprinted (PDF).


External links[]