Tzolkʼin[1] (Mayan pronunciation: [t͡sol ˈkʼin], formerly and commonly tzolkin) is the name bestowed by Mayanists on the 260-day Mesoamerican calendar originated by the Maya civilization of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica[citation needed].

The tzolkʼin, the basic cycle of the Maya calendar, is a preeminent component in the society and rituals of the ancient and the modern Maya. The tzolkʼin is still used by several Maya communities in the Guatemalan highlands. While its use has been spreading in this region, this practice is opposed by Evangelical Christian converts in some Maya communities.

The word tzolkʼin, meaning "division of days",[citation needed] is a western coinage in Yukatek Maya. Contemporary Maya groups who have maintained an unbroken count for over 500 years in the tzolk'in use other terms in their languages. For instance, the Kʼicheʼ use the term Aj Ilabal Qʼij [aχ ilaɓal ʠiχ] or Rajilabal Kʼij [ɾaχ ilaɓal ʠiχ], 'the sense of the day' or 'the round of the days'[citation needed] and the Kaqchikel use the term Chol Qʼij [tʃol ʠiχ], 'the organization of time'.[citation needed] The names of this calendar among the pre-Columbian Maya are not widely known. The corresponding Postclassic Aztec calendar was called tonalpohualli in the Nahuatl language.

The twenty day names[]

The tzolkʼin calendar combines a cycle of twenty named days with another cycle of thirteen numbers (the trecena), to produce 260 unique days (20 × 13 = 260).[2] Each successive named day is numbered from 1 to 13, and then starting again at 1.

The 20 individual named days are the following:

Tzolkʼin calendar: named days and associated glyphs (in sequence)[3]
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.png MAYA-g-log-cal-D01-Imix-cdxW.png Imix Haʼ (?) waterlily, crocodile
02 Ikʼ MAYA-g-log-cal-D02-Ik.png MAYA-g-log-cal-D02-Ik-cdxW.png Ik Ikʼ wind, breath, life force
03 Akʼbʼal MAYA-g-log-cal-D03-Akbal.png MAYA-g-log-cal-D03-Akbal-cdxW.png Akbal Akʼab (?) darkness, night, early dawn
04 Kʼan MAYA-g-log-cal-D04-Kan.png MAYA-g-log-cal-D04-Kan-cdxW.png Kan Ohl (?) Net, sacrifice
05 Chikchan MAYA-g-log-cal-D05-Chikchan.png MAYA-g-log-cal-D05-Chikchan-cdxW.png Chicchan (unknown) cosmological snake
06 Kimi MAYA-g-log-cal-D06-Kimi.png MAYA-g-log-cal-D06-Kimi-cdxW.png Cimi Cham (?) death
07 Manikʼ MAYA-g-log-cal-D07-Manik.png MAYA-g-log-cal-D07-Manik-cdxW.png Manik Chij (?) deer
08 Lamat MAYA-g-log-cal-D08-Lamat.png MAYA-g-log-cal-D08-Lamat-cdxW.png Lamat Ekʼ / Lamaht (?) Venus, star, ripe(ness), maize seeds
09 Muluk MAYA-g-log-cal-D09-Muluk.png MAYA-g-log-cal-D09-Muluk-cdxW.png Muluc (unknown) jade, water, offering
10 Ok MAYA-g-log-cal-D10-Ok.png MAYA-g-log-cal-D10-Ok-cdxW.png Oc Ook (?) dog
11 Chuwen MAYA-g-log-cal-D11-Chuwen.png MAYA-g-log-cal-D11-Chuwen-cdxW.png Chuen (unknown) howler monkey
12 Ebʼ MAYA-g-log-cal-D12-Eb.png MAYA-g-log-cal-D12-Eb-cdxW.png Eb (unknown) rain
13 Bʼen MAYA-g-log-cal-D13-Ben.png MAYA-g-log-cal-D13-Ben-cdxW.png Ben (unknown) green/young maize, seed
14 Ix MAYA-g-log-cal-D14-Ix.png MAYA-g-log-cal-D14-Ix-cdxW.png Ix Hix (?) jaguar
15 Men MAYA-g-log-cal-D15-Men.png MAYA-g-log-cal-D15-Men-cdxW.png Men Tz'ikin (?) eagle
16 Kibʼ MAYA-g-log-cal-D16-Kib.png MAYA-g-log-cal-D16-Kib-cdxW.png Cib (unknown) wax
17 Kabʼan MAYA-g-log-cal-D17-Kaban.png MAYA-g-log-cal-D17-Kaban-cdxW.png Caban Chab / Kab (?) earth
18 Etzʼnabʼ MAYA-g-log-cal-D18-Etznab.png MAYA-g-log-cal-D18-Etznab-cdxW.png Etznab (unknown) flint
19 Kawak MAYA-g-log-cal-D19-Kawak.png MAYA-g-log-cal-D19-Kawak-cdxW.png Cauac (unknown) rain storm
20 Ajaw MAYA-g-log-cal-D20-Ajaw.png MAYA-g-log-cal-D20-Ajaw-cdxW.png Ahau Ajaw lord, ruler, sun


  1. The sequence number of the named day in the Tzolkʼin 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 of the glyph was used; 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 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 tzolkʼin does not have a generally recognized start and end, although there are specific references in the books of Chilam Balam to 1 Imix as the beginning day.

Each of the twenty days has its specific primary association connected to the day name's meaning.[4]

The variant names and associations below are common to three post-conquest Guatemalan highland calendars. Their interpretations are based primarily on an 1854 manuscript by Hernandez Spina.[5]


The tzolkʼin was extensively used in Mayan inscriptions and codices. Symbolism related to the tzolkʼin 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 Xmucane has set an impossible task for Xquic of collecting a netful of corn from one stalk and Xquic 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 Kʼicheʼ), just as her child is the heir of Hun Hunajpu.[6]

The uses to which the ancient Maya applied the calendar are unknown, nonetheless modern Maya communities employ the calendar as follows:


The 260-day calendar spread throughout the Mesoamerican cultural region and is regarded as the oldest and most important of the calendar systems, with an origin predating its first appearances in Maya inscriptions.[7] The earliest evidence of this calendar comes from a possible day sign with a dot numeral coefficient in an Olmec-like inscription in Oxtotitlán cave dated to 800-500 BCE.[8] Some of the next oldest calendric inscriptions are from early strata of Zapotec in the Oaxacan highlands at sites such as Monte Albán, dating from 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 are disputed by scholars.[9] The earliest unequivocal written record is a 7 Deer day sign found in mural paintings at the central lowland Maya site of San Bartolo, Guatemala, dated to the 3rd century BCE,[10] but it is now obvious that the origin of the 260-day is much earlier. An archaeoastronomical study has shown that a number of architectural complexes built in the late second and early first millennia BCE in the area along the southern Gulf coast in Mexico are oriented to the Sun's positions on the horizon on certain dates, separated by multiples of 13 and 20 days. Since these were elementary periods of the 260-day cycle, the orientations marking these intervals can only be explained in association with this calendar. The dating of the earliest constructions indicates that it was in use by 1100 BCE.[11]

The original purpose of 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, (Thompson 1950: Maya Hieroglyphic Writing:Introduction). The number twenty was the basis of the Maya counting system, taken from the total number of human digits. (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 in the contemporary Kʼiche Maya community of the municipality of Momostenango in highland Guatemala. She underwent a formal apprenticeship in calendar divination 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."[12]

Anthony Aveni asserts, "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".[13] Others have observed that the "Venus Table" in the Dresden Codex, is an accurate ephemeris for predicting Venus positions.[14] Others have also observed a basis for the 260-day cycle in the agricultural cycle of highland Guatemala, which is also about 260 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."[15] This may seem contrived, but the Maya did employ the tzolkin to predict positions of Venus and eclipses.[citation needed]

Another theory is that the 260-day period is 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.[16]

Vincent Malmström[17] identifies a correlation between the 260-day cycle and the 260-day gap between zenithal passages of the sun. According to this hypothesis, the 260-day cycle originated in the narrow latitudinal band (14°42′N to 15°N) in which the sun is vertically overhead about 12–13 August and again 260 days later about 30 April – 1 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, others object to this conception, 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 farther north of this zone.[18] Consequently, this theory is not widely supported.

It is also possible that the number 260 has multiple sources.

The tzolkʼin and the New Age movement[]

The tzolkʼin is the basis for the modern, New Age invention of the "Dreamspell" calendar, developed by the esoteric author José Argüelles. The Dreamspell calendar is sometimes mistakenly identified as an authentic interpretation or extension of the original Maya calendar, although Argüelles himself acknowledges the Dreamspell calendar is a new and syncretic creation, inspired by elements from Mesoamerican and non-Mesoamerican sources.

In 1987, before the Harmonic Convergence, inspired by a single paragraph of Argüelles's book "The Mayan Factor" (wherein he refers to each day as a "tone"), singer/songwriter and sound healer, Alyras (aka Mirai), translated the tzolkʼin's harmonic values into sound, with the tutelage of Barbara Hero. Eschewing extensions of the tzolkʼin, Alyras opted for strict mathematical adherence to the tzolkʼin's fundamental structure and sequences, in order to present a truly authentic sonic expression of its inner workings.[19]

In 1995, Maria von Boisse translated the mathematical matrix of the tzolkʼin to musical notes and set them into music. The final version of the work was developed in collaboration with Hubert Bognermayr in the Electronic Försterhaus in Linz, Austria.[20]

In 1998, composer Michael John Wiley discovered mathematical and aesthetic correlations between the tzolk'in vigesimal count and the naturally occurring overtone series found in music, yielding the composition Tzolkin in C Major", which was premiered by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra in Japan, 2002, taking 3rd Prize at the prestigious Toru Takemitsu Composition Award, and subsequently developed into a Tzolkin Cultural Mation, an audio/visual presentation of the 260 day calendar and timing matrix.

See also[]


  1. ^ from the revised Guatemala Mayan languages Academy orthography, which is preferred by the linguists of the Summer Institute of Linguistics
  2. ^ Williams, Robert Lloyd (2021-10-25). Appendix III. Codex Zouche-Nuttall Reverse Day Dates on Pages 46a–48a for Year 5 Reed (AD 1095) and Lord Eight Deer’s Campaign as Lord of Tututepec. University of Texas Press. doi:10.7560/721210-020/html. ISBN 978-0-292-79334-7.
  3. ^ The modern orthography and reconstructed Classic Maya names in the table follow the summary provided in Kettunen and Helmke (2020). The associations are based on Miller and Taube (1993), p.49.
  4. ^ The particular associations given below are based on Wright (1989).
  5. ^ The full three calendars, and information derived from Spina, are given by Weeks et al. (2009).
  6. ^ Dennis Tedlock (translator and or), Popol Vuh: The Definitive Edition Of The Mayan Book Of The Dawn Of Life, 1996
  7. ^ Miller and Taube (1993), pp.48–50.
  8. ^ David C. Grove, “The Olmec paintings of Oxtotitlan Cave, Guerrero, Mexico,” (Washington, D.C., Dumbarton Oaks, 1970) 20.
  9. ^ See Lo's summary at Mesomerican Writing Systems (n.d.).
  10. ^ David Stuart et al., "An early Maya calendar record from San Bartolo, Guatemala", Science Advances 8 (15), 2022, eabl9290
  11. ^ Ivan Šprajc et al., "Origins of Mesoamerican astronomy and calendar: Evidence from the Olmec and Maya regions", Science Advances 9 (1), 2023, eabq7675
  12. ^ Tedlock (1982, pp.174–177).
  13. ^ Aveni (2000, p.202).
  14. ^ "O Códice de Dresden". World Digital Library. 1200–1250. Retrieved 2013-08-21.
  15. ^ Aveni (2000, p.201).
  16. ^ See e.g. Miller and Taube (1993, pp.46, 48.)
  17. ^ Malmström (1973), Zelia Nuttall (1928) and Ola Apenes (1936).
  18. ^ 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 ion of Science (reprinted (PDF).
  19. ^ See "Ascension: The Tzolkʼin Series" and "The Radiant Tzolkʼin" for both audio and audiovisual expressions of the tzolkʼin, respectively
  20. ^ "TZOLKIN – the sacred Mayan calendar (Part I. Of Tolteca)"[permanent dead link]


External links[]