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Time and the Maya calendar

Friday 19 February 2016
Two days on the Maya
Van Steenis
Einsteinweg 2
2333 CC Leiden

The Maya time conceptualization is highly complex as it involves different cycles interacting with each other in a harmonious synergy. In spite of five centuries of colonization, the Maya calendar has continued without interruption in the Highlands of Guatemala. Today, while we are about to close the year 5128 of the Maya count, the ancestral count is under risk of disappearance for numeral reasons. The aim of this workshop is to present a general overview of the Maya time system: how the calendar does work today? How did it possibly work in the past? The conceptualization of time will be discussed by three specialists from the Leiden University and the University of Bonn who are specialized in the contemporary, colonial and pre-Colonial Maya calendar. The goal of the first part is to reach to a better understanding of the archaeological data and the ethnographic sources. In the second part of the workshop we will encourage the participants in reading Maya dates in the hieroglyphic writing system.

Open for BA and (R) MA students





 General introduction. Manuel May, Paul van den Akker






 45 min. presentation Paul van den Akker: Calendar systems in the Highlands of Guatemala

 45 min. presentation Frauke Sachse. The Life of Days: Conceptualisations of Time in Calendar Documents from Colonial Highland Guatemala






 45 min. presentation Manuel May: Calendrical events and the Maya architecture






 30 min. Introduction to calendrical hieroglyphs. Manuel May, Paul van den Akker

 Reading Maya dates

 45 min. Case Study. Manuel May, Paul van den Akker




Calendar systems in the Highlands of Guatemala

Paul van den Akker

Faculty of archaeology, Leiden University

Although the Christian calendar was introduced in the Americas almost 500 years ago, the Maya calendar has continued without interruption in the Highlands of Guatemala. Today, the two formerly separated calendars form one coherent calendar system. In this presentation we will discuss the basics of the contemporary Maya calendar of the Guatemalan Highlands. Furthermore we will explore how an understanding of the contemporary perception of time may contribute to the archaeological interpretation of pre-Colonial Maya perception of time.

The Life of Days: Conceptualisations of Time in Calendar Documents from Colonial Highland Guatemala

Juniorprofessor Dr. Frauke Sachse

Department for the Anthropology of the Americas, University of Bonn

In Highland Guatemala the Mesoamerican calendar traditions survived in several colonial written documents. Calendar priests were often literate and produced calendars that contain descriptions of calendarical processes and detailed day prognostics. Written in K'iche' and Kaqchikel, these calendars are invaluable resources for reconstructing and describing indigenous conceptualisations of time and associated cultural practices. This presentation will explore various calendars documents through the languages they are written in. We will see that the documents prove a continuous and uninterrupted tradition of time reckoning and time perception since Classic Maya times.

Calendrical events and the Maya architecture

Dr.  Manuel May

Faculty of Archaeology, Heritage of Indigenous Peoples, Leiden University

Calendrical dates recorded in the Maya architecture refer to important events that give us some ideas on the function and meaning of the buildings. These events can be referenced in relation to present times thanks to the advances in epigraphy, but we are still far from having a complete picture on the nature of those events and on the interpretation of the architecture itself. Without doubts the contemporary Maya peoples, especially the experts on the calendar, can actively contribute to academic discussions related to time perception, the nature of the events and consequently on the meaning of the architecture. This presentation will show a study case at Tikal, Guatemala where the Maya wise (Ajq’ijab in K’iche’ or Meno’ob in Yucatec) actively contributed to better understand the function and meaning of a temple, by applying the different levels of meaning of the contemporary Maya calendar.

Further suggested bibliography:

Kettunen, H., & Helmke, C. (2011). Introduction to Maya Hieroglyphs. XVI European Maya Conference. Department of American Indian Languages and Cultures. The National Museum of Denmark. (Pp. 47-58). Downloadable for free at: http://www.wayeb.org/download/resources/wh2011english.pdf

May Castillo, M. (2014, September). Análisis, estudio y conservación de los edificios astronómicos mayas. Arquitectura Maya y urbanismo, una aproximación desde la arquitectura y el paisaje (Doctoral dissertation). Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, Valencia.


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