Historic Calendars

The two major discoveries I made in Maya religious tradition, a) the identity between Kauil and Jesus, and b) the events to transpire at the end of the age, has altered the manner in which I discuss the Mayan calendar. If those traditions are so crucially important to our understanding of that unique people then all phases of their civilization come under that microscope. Before that discovery early in 2010 I blundered through an attempt to understand their civilization. I knew the Cross was important to their spiritual outlook but I did not grasp the true import of that symbol. Hence, all that follows is colored by those discoveries.

The godless outlook of modern scholarship shows the great spiritual conflict facing all of us. The following statement comes from Stanley Guenter, a young but well-known epigrapher in the field of Mayan studies. See http://decipherment.wordpress.com/2009/10/11/q-a-about-2012/#comment-438.

As I shall show, Guenter's statements are not factually correct. They may be self-consoling but definitely not accurate.

Historic Calendars

In order to put the Mayan calendar into context we should look at the other historic calendars of the world. These are a) lunar calendars based on the periods of the moon, b) lunar-solar calendars, a mixture of lunar and solar time measurement systems, or c) purely solar calendars, based on the yearly cycles of the earth around the sun. However, the last were ultimately based on lunar measure, adapted to solar time keeping.

Chinese Calendar

The Chinese Calendar began as a lunar calendar but at some unknown point was adapted to a solar system. Both the lunar and solar systems are remembered in China. This system is not exclusive to China, but is followed by many other Asian cultures. It is often referred to as the Chinese calendar because it was first perfected by the Chinese around 500 BC. The years are arranged in major cycles of 60 (sexagenarian) years. Each successive year is named after one of 12 animals. Five of these cycles equals the sexagenarian system.

There is no universally agreed upon "epoch" or starting point for the Chinese calendar. Tradition holds that the calendar was invented by Emperor Huang-di in the 61st year of his reign, what is now known under the proleptic Gregorian calendar as 2637 BC. The Chinese New Year is celebrated at the second new moon after the winter solstice and falls between January 21 and February 19 on the Gregorian calendar. This custom shows how the solar calendar is rooted in the lunar calendar.

The Chinese lunar calendar is divided into 12 months of 29 or 30 days. Leap months are inserted into the lunar calendar to harmonize the moon cycle with the sun cycle. Because one year has about 365.2425 days and one month has about 29.53 days, one year has about 12.3685 months. 12.3685 is about 12 and 7/19. Seven extra months in 19 years places the sun and moon (nearly) back to the same sky position. (Refer to Metonic synchronism discussed below.)

The Chinese 10-day week is known as far back as the Shang Dynasty (1200-1045 BC).

Chinese History: A Manual:  Endymion Porter Wilkinson, Harvard University Press, December 1998

Hindu Calendar

The Hindu calendar used in ancient times has undergone many changes in the process of regionalization, and today there are several regional Indian calendars, as well as an Indian national calendar.

The epoch (starting point or first day of the zeroth year) of the current Kali Yuga era of Hindu calendar (both solar and lunisolar) is January 23, 3102 BCE in the proleptic Gregorian calendar. Both the solar and lunisolar calendars started on this date. After that, each year is labeled by the number of years elapsed since the epoch. The following is a general overview of Hindu lunisolar calendar.

The ecliptic is divided into 27 nakshatras, which are variously called lunar houses or asterisms. These reflect the moon's cycle against the fixed stars, (sidereal period), of 27 days and 7¾ hours, the fractional part being compensated by an intercalary 28th nakshatra. Nakshatra computation appears to have been well known at the time of the Rig Veda (2nd–1st millennium BC). A lunar synodic month has 29 or 30 days (according to the movement of the moon). An extra month falls every 32.5 months. It is also known as purushottam mas, so as to give it a devotional name. Thus 12 Hindu mas (māsa) is equal to approximate 356 days, while the solar year has 365 or 366 (in leap year) which creates a difference of 9 to 10 days. (A sidereal month lasts 27.322 days, while a synodic month lasts 29.531 days.)

However, most religious festivals and auspicious occasions are still decided on the basis of lunar movements.

Hinduism has four eras or ages, of which we are currently in the last. The four are:

  1. Krita Yuga or Satya Yuga
  2. Treta Yuga
  3. Dvāpara Yuga
  4. Kali Yuga

They are often translated into English as the golden, silver, bronze and Iron Ages. (Yuga means era or age.) The ages see a gradual decline of dharma, wisdom, knowledge, intellectual capability, life span and emotional and physical strength. The epoch provided above is the start of the Kali Yuga. The Kali Yuga is 432,000 years long. The Dvāpara, Tretā and Krita (Satya) Yugas are two, three and four times the length of the Kali Yuga respectively. Thus they together constitute 4,320,000 years. This is called a Chaturyuga.

The Hindu religion had the longest grasp on time of any known civilization.

The Hindu week is the same as the week observed in the west, seven days.

Egyptian Calendar

The earliest Egyptian calendar apparently was based on moon cycles. Later the Egyptians came to use Sirius, the "Dog Star" in Canis Major, as their marker for a yearly solar calendar. This star rose next to the sun every 365 days, about when the annual inundation of the Nile began. Based on this knowledge, they devised a 365-day calendar that seems to have begun in 4236 BC, the earliest recorded year in history.

However, the ancient Egyptian year was almost a quarter of a day shorter than the solar year. As a result, stellar events "wandered" through the calendar. This drift is referred to as the Annus Vagus or "Wandering Year".

The heliacal rising of Sothis returned to the same point in the calendar every 1460 years (a period called the Sothic cycle). The difference between a seasonal year and a civil year was therefore 365 days in 1460 years, or one day in four years. Similarly, the Egyptians were aware that 309 lunations nearly equaled 9125 days, or 25 Egyptian years, which was later used in the construction of a secondary lunar calendar that did not depend on observations

Ancient Egypt had a 10-day week, 3 weeks per month with 5 extra days at the end of the year. This odd five-day period was observed by many cultures.

Hebrew Calendar

The Jewish calendar was strictly lunar. It was based on the Metonic cycle of 19 years, of which 12 are common years (12 months) and 7 leap years (13 months). A Metonic cycle equates to 235 lunar months in each 19-year cycle. This gives an average of 6939 days, 16 hours and 595 parts for each cycle.

The Jewish calendar's epoch, 1 Tishrei 1 am, is equivalent to Monday, 7 October 3761 BCE in the proleptic Julian calendar.

In more recent times the calendar was updated to accommodate 12 months in a solar year. However, the lengths of the months are too short to fill out a full year, thus revealing their inheritance from the lunar months.

A synodic month is the period between two lunar conjunctions, such as between two new moons. Since the actual length of a synodic month varies by several hours from month to month, the calendar is based on a long-term average length called the mean synodic month. The virtual lunar conjunctions at the start of each mean synodic month are called molads. The mean synodic month used in the Hebrew calendar is exactly 765433/25920 days, or 29 days, 12 hours, and 44 + 1/18 minutes, (i.e. 29.5306 days). This interval exactly matches the mean synodic month determined by the Babylonians before 250 BC and as adopted by the Greek astronomer Hipparchus and the Alexandrian astronomer Ptolemy. Its remarkable accuracy (less than one second from the true value) is thought to have been achieved using records of lunar eclipses from the eighth to fifth centuries BC.

The Hebrew calendar's mean year is 365.2468 days long (exactly 365 days 5 hours 55 minutes and 25/57 seconds - i.e. the molad/monthly interval × 235 months per 19-year cycle ÷ 19 years per cycle). As the present-era mean northward equinoctal year is about 365.2424 days long, the Hebrew calendar mean year is slightly longer than this tropical year. This results in a "drift" of the Hebrew calendar of about a day every 224 years. Also, the mean Gregorian calendar year is 365.2425 days long (365 days 5 hours 49 minutes and 12 seconds), resulting in a drift of the Hebrew calendar in relation to the Gregorian calendar of about a day every 231 years.

The Hebrew week is the week observed in the west, seven days.

Evolutionary Features

All of these calendars exhibit evolutionary origins. They all appear to have origins in the cycles of the moon. We know from various discoveries that mankind has been observing the cycles of the moon for more than 25,000 years. The evidence is on artifacts of bone dating from that far back with scratches that indicate observations of the periods of the moon.

The division of the year into 12 months shows a lunar origin. While the solar year is somewhat longer than 12 lunar cycles, the solar calendars have borrowed these periods and extended them to fit the solar cycle.

A measurement of the month into divisions of four weeks of seven days, equal to 28 days, or three weeks of ten days, also shows this pattern. Three weeks of ten days is an merely an extension on the lunar month to fit a solar cycle.

The Hebrews, probably borrowing from the Babylonians, took this measurement of the moon cycles to near perfection. Early astronomers discovered that 235 mean lunar months is almost the same as 19 tropical years. 235 mean lunar months equals 6939.6884 days, while 19 tropical years equals 6939.6018 days. The difference is only about two hours, which accumulates to an error of one day in about 220 years. (Note Hebrew error mentioned above.) This is called the Metonic cycle after the Greek astronomer Meton who used it in 432 BC, but it was known to the Babylonians by around 500 BC and to the Chinese around 600 BC. In China it was called the zhang cycle. Unfortunately, many ancient astronomers were so convinced of the harmony of the heavens they assumed that this wonderful relation was exact, so for a long time this cycle was hardwired into the Chinese calendar. It would take more than a thousand years to detect an error of five days.

Guenter's Misstatements

While I have not exhaustively covered the world to show all possible calendars, the ones I mentioned encompass a good portion of the human world population. We in the west follow a solar calendar that came out of Rome, but it too exhibits origins in lunar cycles.

Guenter states:

These calendars all were designed to count time from a specific starting point, with no designated end date. 

As we see from the above presentation the world calendars are evolutionary, starting with observations of the moon that go into the unknown mists of the past. They did not have a designed start point. It is true that we have no designated end date in any of the world calendars - except for the Maya.

Many different calendars exist or have existed in different cultures . . .There is no reason to believe the Maya calendar was any different.

Yes, there are reasons. It is not an evolutionary calendar; it is a designed calendar.

All monumental evidence, every single example, shows that the Maya limited themselves to a period of calendar time that would end on the winter solstice in the year 2012.

There are dozens of references in Classic Maya texts to the 4 Ahau 8 Cumku starting point of their calendar. There is but a single reference to the putative end date of, 4 Ahau 3 Kankin.

Such lack of evidence does not mean that the Maya did not understand the "end" of time in their calendar. Guenter should recognize that the Maya understood that they were living a destiny life, and that the "end" did not preoccupy their minds. After all, their dates show that they were millennia away from realizing that point in time.

Furthermore, as I pointed out above, the idea that the Maya calendar reached a "full Baktun count" in 2012 is simply erroneous. All evidence we have indicates the Maya counted 20 baktuns in a pictun, which means there is no "fulfillment" in 2012, simply another stage along the road to 4772. And even in 4772 there is no reason to believe the Maya calendar "ends".

No, the Maya did not demonstrate in their monumental evidence that they looked for a pictun. While they did, indeed, discuss longer spans of time, they left no evidence that they expected to reach those longer spans.

This is definitely the argument that a lot of the 2012ers are making, that the Maya calendar was designed specifically to end on December 21st, 2012. There are many problems with such an idea. For one thing, it would make the Maya calendar unique in the history of humanity.   The heavy emphasis on the beginning date of this calendar makes it quite clear that the Maya calendar is not unique and, like all others, was designed to count time from the beginning point.

Such notion is not clear at all. Guenter does not tell us all the facts that makes the Mayan calendar unique. He may not even recognize them. In other papers I shall show why the Mayan calendar was unique.


December 2, 2009 at 9:49 AM | Reply  Ernest Moyer to Stanley Guenter

As you state, the different cultures had different calendars. The Chinese was assigned a start date in 2696 BCE. The Hindu in 3102 BCE. The Hebrew in 3761 BCE. These are all mythical start dates we believe were invented by people later in that culture. All were lunar-solar calendars that required adjustment as the centuries rolled by.

Today the de facto calendar of the world is the Christian. The Christian calendar also needed adjustment we now call the Gregorian calendar. It did not start on some mythical date but on the deliberate birth of a man. That man was Jesus. That fact is a statement of the powerful influence of a single individual upon the world. Many people believe that only God could have such powerful influence.

The Maya had a calendar that was the most sophisticated ever invented by man. It never required adjustment to keep it in step with the ages. If the correlations are correct it started on 13 (11) August, 3114 BCE. The 13 (11) of August has an important astronomical event: the Milky Way stands erect in the sky from north to south, passing through the zenith. Since the monumental evidence shows a bactun count of only five digits, we must assume that the Maya were interested only in a bactun count of five digits. The La Mojarra Stela 1, for example, has a Long Count date of, or 156 CE. This bactun count has been filling up since the beginning of the calendar more that 5,000 years ago. It will fill up on Dec 21, 2012. December 21 marks the winter solstice. Hence the Maya calendar has two astronomical events to mark it, the start date, and the bactun fill-up date. No matter how we may regard these events, they are mighty in their implications: they mark a 5,000 year record, with astronomical significance. So it is natural for many to react to these facts with deep concern, to see them as the “end.”

Now I would like to know how a stone age people, with blow-guns as their most powerful weapons, were able to invent such a calendar, with the astronomical implications.