A lot of talk is going on lately about the calendar of the Mayas, the “Tzolk’in”.

It seems to me that even though, yes, Hernán Cortés treated the Mayas very badly, that doesn´t mean the Mayas necessarily were wise people nor that their religions and philosophies would be superior to our scientific findings. I don´t see why the cruelties committed by the Spanish invader would mean that some calender based on superstition (i.e. irrational beliefs) would have any relationship with our real world.

If I would burn an ant hill down, would that mean that ants are right and as a matter of fact the whole universe is created by a gigantic insect? (Well, to be honest, I don´t know whether all ants believe that. Black ants do, but red ants are more divided on the matter.).

So, the Mayas could describe rather well the movement of a lot of planets and stars. They were good observers. However, to explain those various paths, i.e., the cogs and wheels that form the mechanism behind those movements, they came up with Gods and Spirits. Which is fair enough, although these beliefs in Gods and Spirits never lead them to develop anything remotely useful in any practical way. Not even the necessary strengths of a simple bridge over a river could be calculated correctly by using Gods and Spirits alone.

On the other hand, here in Europe, we developed some pretty accurate knowledge of the planets as well. At first, mostly the Arabs, the Indians and the Persians collected these data. Later, starting from the 16th century especially European scientists were able, not only to observe these movements themselves but also to deduce more abstract relationships between these movements: energy, accelerations, angular momentum. Indeed, rather like the Gods and Spirits of the Mayas: abstract words with no direct relationship to experienced reality.

However, using these abstract “ghosts”, we could then actually calculate strenghts of bridges over rivers. And later, using input from other observations, strengts of airplane wings. And later, noting some mathematical inconsistenties, proposing a mathematical model which was even more complex than the one originally proposed by Newton. This new mathematical model, proposed by Einstein, was called the General Theory of Relativity. And it predicted – among a lot of other things that later were all verified – a certain deviation in the path of the planet Mercury. A deviation that was 100% confirmed by observation. So, using mathematics to describe the paths of planets, actually lead us to improve our knowledge about these paths. Now, with all respect to Kinich Ahau and Itzamna, that is impressive!

Therefore. I can´t see how, besides for some unguided sympathy for the underdog that surely does not make anybody happier, anyone could believe that Mayan calendar is in any way closer to the truth than our scientifical knowledge about the physical laws of nature.


11 thoughts on “Tzolk’in

  1. matxil

    A friend of mine told me that actually Cortez was not the worst enemy of the Mayas, one of his capitans (forgot his name) was the real bad guy. Also, the picture at the side of this article actually is not Mayan but Aztecan.

    Well, I am sure the average Mayan wouldn´t know the difference between a dutch “leverkaas” and the german “leberkäse”, so we´re equal. In a way…

    1. Felip

      The “bad guy” was Alvarado, lieutenant of Cortez and after conqueror of most of Central America and Governor of Guatemala.
      His cruelty and the atrocities he comitted are notorious.

  2. matxil

    Ah right, that´s when the four horsemen will come down and destroy the world as we know it, right? Nostradamus met zijn strakke groene broek.

  3. juanca


    first of all….there’s a timeline/geographic/culture difference between Mayans and Aztecs!!

    2.When the Spanish arrived to Mexico and Centralamerica, the Mayans were already gone ( due to a series of revolutions and bad resources management- these are still theories). what the spanish found in centralamerica were dispersed tribes who came from Mexico.

    3.when the spanish came to mexico, they found the aztecs, who had a different Tzolkin, that wasn’t as precise as the Mayan one.

    4.THE 2012 TALK.
    the Tzolkin is very precise and has more to do with the physical laws of nature than the “neo- hippie catastrophical bullshit” that the world will end at 2012.

    The Tzolkin just simply describes the end and beginning of a period at 2012, nothing more. To this day there isn’t any evidence of a mayan prediction.
    That has been made by frustrated-“trust fund”-hippies who happen to believe in UFOs and all that crap!!!

    let’s make a difference between and old civilization astronomy and today’s hippie bullshit!

    Tzikin Patxut!!!

    1. Felip

      I’m not a specialist but I have read Sylvanus G Morley books on Maya writing and calendar. I know it’s old and probably outdated… perhaps some evidences have appeared after.
      Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that nobody really knows when the maya calendar starts. We know well enough how it worked, but not the exact correspondence between their calendar and ours. As we don’t know when the first big cycle of maya calendar began, we don’t know exactly when the next cycle will end. Year 2012 is only one possibility.

      About mayans… I don’t agree with you: when spaniards arrived to America, they were mayans in Yucatán, Petén, Chiapas… and they are still there.
      Some of their cities were inhabited and ruled by kings (namely: Chichén Itzá, Mayapán, Uxmal, Itzamná, Chetumal, Tayasal and so on).

  4. matxil

    Thanks for setting me straight on this! It´s true that most of my knowledge about the Mayan calendar comes straight from the new-age hippies, so I certainly need to know more about the real backgrounds of it.

    I know that the great physicist Feynmann once, as a hobby, studied the Mayan calendar and compared it with our “Newtonian” descripcions of planets and stars. His conclusion was that their description of the movements of planets and stars was very very accurate. But also, that they lacked the larger mathematical framework that Newton physics has to explain also the mechanism beyond the mere observation. Still, I should study this more.

  5. Felip

    I thing that Maya calendar is interesting in many ways.
    First of all as braintraining. The most abstract and useless they are, the better for your brain. This is why Go is better than Chess… ¦)
    I think it was Aldous Huxley who said that schoolchildren might learn etruscan instead of latin or greek: because besides of being a dead language, we understand its grammar but not the meaning of a single word of it.
    Secondly, because it makes you wonder why old maya priests and noblemen were so obssessed with time, and why on the earth they insisted on pushing their calendar system to times completely out of their reach…
    I wonder why those new-agers, blind believers of magic, homeopathy, conspiracy theories, UFOs and so on, turn to maya calendar to predict the future. In fact, old mayans never used it to predict anything except eclipses!

  6. matxil

    🙂 Wow, still discussing an old topic. (Nothing of interest in my later topics? No opinions about Axe shower gel? I am working on a text about “work”, hopefully at the end of this week, it will be finished).
    I agree that the Maya calendar could be interesting for brain training. That’s exactly why the physicist Richard Feynman studied it. (He also studied bongos, portuguese and spanish at the same time, and cryptology). For him it was just an intellectual puzzle.
    Personally I prefer Chess above Go, although you are right that Go is mathematically cleaner, and so, much more interesting in that way. I have never studied the Mayan calendar either by the way. Maybe life is already too much of a puzzle for me.

    New-agers, homeopathy believers, astrologers, etc. are attracted to the Maya calendar because they don’t know anything about it, but it is “indian”, and so “exotic” and so “true”. If it would be a Sioux calendar or an Incan prayer-book, a Nepalese recipe for mashed potatoes or a Papoea song about the moon, their reaction would be the same.
    Dress a guy with a long beard up in an orange dress, give him an Indian name (Asian-Indian or American Indian), hang some beads around his neck and let him babble on about “peace”, “spirits” and “the universe” and people will believe everything he says. Baghwan proofs my point.
    Funny actually, new-agers are very much like Christoper Columbus (you know, that great Catalan explorer) who mixed up Oriental India with Occidental America: for them there is not much differerence between Savi Tandoori Shiktah and Black Eagle With Bleeding Heart either.

  7. Pingback: Mexico and Belize « DINZO!

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