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Maya Calendar Conversions - Conclusion

Ximena Catepillan (Millersville University of Pennsylvania) and Waclaw Szymanski (West Chester University of Pennsylvania)

The method of converting Long Count dates into Tzolkin Calendar and Haab Calendar dates presented here is based only on the description of the calendars and not on any historical record of calendar conversion. Most known Maya dates – found on stelae, lintels, etc. – are presented graphically in pictogram forms or using dot-and-bar numeration to display all three of these ways of reckoning time.

In classroom practice, the principles of the calendars should first be explained in detail. Subsequently, one may present the two examples given in this article to the class, or ask the students to work through these examples, perhaps in small groups. Alternatively, one can lead students to construct their own methods of calendar conversion by asking them to perform simpler tasks, such as to compute the date 7 days, 14 days, 21 days, and 210 days from the starting date of 8 Cumku, in the Haab Calendar, prior to tackling conversions like those given in Examples 1 and 2.

Since the conversions involve a good amount of the so-called “clock” arithmetic (modular arithmetic), they can be used as an introduction to or another illustration of modular arithmetic (different from the clock) taken from real life. Converting a given number of kins to a Tzolkin Calendar date requires the use of (mod 13) and (mod 20) arithmetic. To do the same for the Haab Calendar date, we use (mod 365) arithmetic.

Studying Maya calendars also gives us an opportunity to discuss the history and culture of an important ancient civilization. In summary, Maya calendar conversions provide a wonderful educational tool that can be used for both university and high school students.

Ximena Catepillan (Millersville University of Pennsylvania) and Waclaw Szymanski (West Chester University of Pennsylvania), "Maya Calendar Conversions - Conclusion," Loci (October 2010), DOI:10.4169/loci003536