|The Haab Calendar
The ancient Maya recognized several different interlocking and
repeating cycles of time, including a 260 day cycle, known as the
Tzolk'in, a 360 day cycle which formed the basis of the Long Count, and
the 365 day Haab year. The Haab (or Hab') is made up of eighteen 20 day
"months", or winals, and one 5 day period. Through sophisticated
astronomical observation, the ancient Maya understood that the solar
year was approximately one quarter of a day longer, but the Haab was
observed as an unbroken cycle of 365 whole days throughout the Classic
Period (200 - 900 CE).
For this reason, the time of year during which each 20 day winal
occurred would change over time, drifting at a rate of approximately
one day every four years, and one whole winal every eighty-three years. In
754 years, the entire Haab is half a year from where it began, and it
returns to its starting seasonal position in 1507 solar years, or 1508
The Haab glyphs for each 20 day period remained relatively
consistent throughout the Classic period. However, it is not yet known
if these glyphs were meant to conform to particular seasons at the time
they were first used. Some of these glyphs appear to relate both
seasonal and astronomical information, such as directional colors, that
may provide further clues to their original seasonal configurations. The Classic period spellings of the Haab glyphs are given in the table below, with their approximate meanings. Below the table, I provide an additional interpretation of these names, based on my current research.
Throughout the Postclassic, the names and dates of the Haab
winals drifted and varied among different Maya groups. By the time the Spanish
invaded the Yucatan, Friar Diego de Landa, who destroyed nearly all of
the Yucatecan Maya books, recorded the Haab calendar in the 1560's as
beginning with the first of Pop on the equivalent of July 26 of the
Gregorian calendar. This date became fixed, and the Yucatecan winal
names, most of which differ from the Classic period names, are the names by which the Haab months are now commonly known.
These Yucatecan names are also given below with de Landa's dates.
||K'anjalaw: Yellow Weaving (Moon?)
||7/26 - 8/14
||Ik' K'at: Black Cross
||8/15 - 9/3
||Chak K'at: Red Cross
||9/4 - 9/23
||9/24 - 10/13
||Kasew/Kutzew: Turkey? (Moon?)
||10/14 - 11/2
||11/3 - 11/22
||Yaxk'in: Green/New Sun
||Ik' Sihom: Black Winter Milpa
|| 1/2 - 1/21
||Yax Sihom: Green Winter Milpa
||1/22 - 2/10
||Sak Sihom: White Winter Milpa
||2/11 - 3/2
||Chak Sihom: Red Winter Milpa
||3/3 - 3/22
||Mak: Turtle Shell
||3/23 - 4/11
||Tzuw: Gourd?; Uniw: Avacado (Moon?)
||4/12 - 5/1
||Muwahn: Mythical Bird/Hawk
||5/2 - 5/21
||Pas Haab: Dawn of the Year?
||5/22 - 6/10
||K'anasiy: Yellow Turtle Firewood?
||6/11 - 6/30
||Hulohl: Arrive at the Center?
||7/1 - 7/20
||Wayhaab: Transformation of the Year?|
||Sleeping/Dreaming of the Haab
(five day period)
|7/21 - 7/25
|Astronomical Research on the Haab
I became interested in studying the
ancient Maya through my interest in
cacao. This led to a project in which
I sculpted the Haab calendar glyphs
for the purposes of casting them
into chocolate. In doing so, I became
interested in their possible astronomical
meanings, which in turn, led to my
current research in Maya astronomy.
I noticed that some
of the Haab glyphs appear
to correspond with known
such as the crossed bands
(T552), which is present
in the sequential winals
known as Wo and Sip, as well as
a recognizable element in iconographic
representations of celestial sky-bands.
The original names for these winals
appear to have been Ik' K'at and
Chak K'at, both attested in ethnographic
records from Chol speakers.
The variable element that appears
with the crossed bands glyph in the
names of these winals corresponds to
the colors IK', 'black', and CHAK, 'red'.
These colors are known to correspond
to cardinal directions among the Maya,
with black representing 'west' and
red representing 'east', while several
scholars have interpreted the crossed
bands as a representation of one
of the two sidereal positions of
the crossing of the ecliptic with
the Milky Way (see Milbrath: "Star Gods of the Maya" 1999).
Working with the assumption
that the original meanings
of the Haab months may have
corresponded with seasonal positions,
I first reasoned that the winals Ik' K'at
and Chak K'at could represent the
appearance of one of the celestial
crossed bands, first in the west at
sunset, then appearing in the east at
sunrise in the following winal. Many
years later, I now believe that these
two names originally referenced the
visible sidereal position of the full
moon (against the background of stars),
first to the west (left) of the Milky Way/
ecliptic in Sagittarius, and then to the
east (right) of this same sidereal position
in the next winal. Indeed, when the majority of the Haab glyphs first appear in the late Fourth Century CE, we find Ik' K'at occurring when the full moon is to the west of the Milky Way in Sagittarius in mid to late May, which would place the first winal K'anjalaw in early May, perhaps corresponding to the May zenith of the sun at Maya latitudes.
Five of the Haab months show
w(a) suffixes that (in Pop, Tzek, and
Mol) can include or be substituted by
a skull, elsewhere read as UH (T1049).
I believe these both indicate 'uh', meaning
'moon'. In addition, a full half of the
Haab winal names include a color glyph
that may indicate a direction, such as
Yaxk'in, with YAX as green/center and
K'IN as sun, suggesting a solar zenith,
when the sun is in the exact center of
the sky at noon, which occurs on this winal in the Fifth Century at Maya latitudes.
The four winals that include the name Sihom also contain color glyphs that may indicate directions. Sihom refers to the Chol winter maize harvest from November to February in the Lowlands, and this time period again closely corresponds to the dates when these winals occur in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries. The directional colors in this case may also refer to the position of the moon, first to the west of a specific sidereal position in Ik' Sihom, followed by Yax Sihom, which here may refer to the lunar zenith in November, when the moon is in the center of the sky, close to the Pleiades at this time, and opposite it's position in the New Year at Pop. Sak Sihom would then position the moon in its farthest northern position, north of the zenith, while Chak Sihom would place the moon to the east of this zenith position. For these reasons, I believe that the unusual features of the main glyph in these winals, also seen in the day named Kawak, may have originally referred to the sidereal position of the Pleaides and the Hyades in Taurus, the latter of which has a unique, triangular 'billiard balls' arrangement.
Within many of the
Haab winal names, I have since found
multiple correspondences that support
my original working hypothesis that
the Haab winals originally represented
a combination of seasonally specific
lunar and solar sidereal positions during the Fourth and Fifth Centuries CE,
and I hope to finally publish the
results of this study in the near future.
- Michael J. Grofe, Ph.D.