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Calendar Stone
CATEGORY: artifact
DEFINITION: A 20-ton, 4-meter wide carved monolith commissioned by the emperor Axayacatl in 1479, which symbolizes the Aztec universe. The populations of central Mexico believed that they were living in the fifth epoch of a series of worlds (or suns) marked by cyclical generation and destruction. The central figure of the stone is this fifth sun, Tonatuih. Surrounding this are four rectangular cartouches containing dates and symbols for the gods Ehecatl, Texcatlipoca, Tlaloc and Chilchihuitlicue who represent the four worlds previously destroyed and the dates of the previous holocausts - 4 Tiger, 4 Wind, 4 Rain, and 4 Water. The central panel contains the date 4 Ollin (movement) on which the Aztecs showed that they anticipated that their current world would be destroyed by an earthquake. In a series of increasingly larger concentric bands, symbols for the 20 days of the month, precious materials, and certain stars are represented. The outermost band depicts two massive serpents whose heads meet at the stone's base. The Calendar Stone is in the Museo Nacional de Antropología (National Museum of Anthropology) in Mexico City.
Maya calendar
DEFINITION: A method employed by the Maya of measuring the passage of time, comprised of two separate calendar systems: the Calendar Round, used for everyday purposes, and the Long Count, used for the reckoning of historical dates. Maya chronology consisted of three main elements: a 260-day sacred year (tzolkin) formed by the combination of 13 numbers (1 to 13) and 20 day names; a solar year (haab), divided into 18 months of 20 days numbered from 0 to 19, followed by a five-day unlucky period (Uayeb); and a series of cycles - uinal (20 kins, or days), tun (360 days), katun (7,200 days), baktun (144,000 days), with the highest cycle being the alautun of 23,040,000,000 days. All Middle American civilizations used the two first counts, which permitted officials accurately to determine a date within a period defined as the least common multiple of 260 and 365: 18,980 days, or 52 years. The Classic Maya Long Count inscriptions enumerate the cycles that have elapsed since a zero date in 3114 BC. Thus, a katun-ending date, means that nine baktuns and six katuns have elapsed from the zero date to the day 2 Ahau 13 Tzec (May 9, AD 751). To those Initial Series were added the Supplementary Series (information about the lunar month) and the Secondary Series, a calendar-correction formula that brought the conventional date in harmony with the true position of the day in the solar year.
DEFINITION: A cyclical system of measuring the passage of time. The day is the fundamental unit of computation in any calendar. Most ancient civilizations (and perhaps some non-literate prehistoric societies) developed calendrical systems to mark the passage of time and various methods have been employed by different peoples. Where these were both carefully calculated and written down, as in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Mesoamerica, they are of considerable assistance to archaeologists for dating purposes. In the Americas, the origins of calendrics are still obscure, but evidence from Monte Albán suggests that the 52-year Calendar Round was known by the 6th century BC. The Long Count system was in use by c 1st century BC if not before. Ancient Near Eastern calendars varied from city to city and from period to period. In most cities the year started in the spring and was divided into 12 or 13 months. In some places the months were of fixed length; in others they were lunar months starting at the first sighting of the crescent of the new moon. As there are more than 12 lunar months in a solar year additional, or intercalary, months were included so that every third year contained 13 months. The earliest Egyptian calendars were based on lunar observations combined with the annual cycle of the Nile inundation, measured with nilometers. On this basis, the Egyptians divided the year into 12 months and three seasons: akhet (inundation), peret (spring/ crops), and shemu (harvest). The Egyptians had 30-day months and 5 intercalary days in their solar or civil calendar. For agricultural purposes and for determining religious festivals, they used a different calendar based on observations of Sirius, the dog star. The calendar in use in ancient Mesopotamia and the Levant was lunar, based on 12 months of 30 days each. This produced a year of only 354 days, about 11-1/4 days short of the true solar year; the necessary correction was made by the addition of seven months over a period of 19 years. This type of calendar is still used in both Judaism and Islam for religious purposes, though many countries now also employ the Gregorian solar calendar for secular purposes. The origin of the calendric system in general use today - the Gregorian calendar - can be traced back to the Roman republican calendar, which is thought to have been introduced by the fifth king of Rome, Tarquinius Priscus (616-579 BC). This calendar was likely derived from an earlier Roman calendar - a lunar system of 10 months - that was supposedly devised about 738 BC by Romulus, the founder of Rome. In the year 46 BC, Julius Caesar corrected the calendar by having a year of 445 days (known as the ultimus annus confusionis' or 'the last year of the muddled reckoning'). He then adapted the Egyptian solar calendar for Roman use, inserting extra days in the shorter months to bring the total up to 365, with the addition of a single day between the 23rd and 24th February in leap years. This calendar, known as the Julian Calendar, remained in use until the time of Gregory XIII in 1582, who made a further correction (of eleven days) and instituted the calendar which is in general use today. Very useful to Mesoamerican archaeologists is the Maya Long Count or Initial Series, which was a means of recording absolute time. Its starting date of 3113 BC (using the Goodman-Thompson-Martinex correlation) marks some mythical event in Maya history and itself stands at the beginning of a cycle 13 Baktuns long. A Baktun at 144,000 days in the largest unit of time in the calendar and is further divided into smaller units: the Katun (7200 days); the Tun (360 days); the Uninal (20 days) and the Kin (a single days). Thus Long Count dates are expressed in terms of these units in a five place notation. Therefore the date indicates the passage of 9 x 144,000 plus 18 x 7200 days since the initial date of 3113 BC. In cultural contexts, however, the dates are inscribed as a series of hieroglyphs which incorporate numeration via bars (units of five) and dots (units of one). Short count dating replaced the Long Count after 900 AD and the Katun replaced the Baktun as the largest unit. It is less precise, however.
calendar round
CATEGORY: artifact
DEFINITION: A ritually and historically important calendar used throughout Mesoamerica in which the solar calendar of 365 days ran in parallel with a sacred 260-day ritual calendar of named days. The calendar round is a 52-year cycle, since both calendars begin on the same day only once every 52 years. Coefficients for days and months were expressed by bar-and-dot numerals, a system that is first known in Monte Albán I and that became characteristic of the Classic Maya. The basic structure of the Mayan calendar is common to all calendars of Mesoamerica. To identify a date of the Calendar Round, they designated the day by its numeral and name, and added the name of the current month, indicating the number of its days that had elapsed by prefixing one of the numerals from 0 through 19. A date written in this way will occur once in every Calendar Round, at intervals of 52 years. It is the meshing of the two Maya calendars, the Tzolkin and the Haab.

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