Long Count

presentation of the Mesoamerican sacred calendar (Tzolkin) and its larger offspring (Long Count)
historical, traditional, psychological, evolutionary, and stylistic perspectives

weaved by non-linear threads of a self-created metahistory

heralding the onset of planetary posthistory

Time is the moving image of Eternity 1


I Zapotec - Mesoamerican Late Preclassic (1st Century BCE) - dot bar format
Maya - Mesoamerican Early Classic (3rd Century CE) - dot bar + head variant format
Maya - Mesoamerican Late Classic (7th Century CE) - dot bar + head variant format
Maya - Mesoamerican Late Classic (7th Century CE) - head variant format
Maya - Mesoamerican Late Classic (8th Century CE) - full-figure format
Maya - Mesoamerican Late Classic (8th Century CE) - full-figure format
the Mandãla - Global Postmodern (arbritrarily selected date) - dot bar format


In the common abbreviated Long Count, the day of Maya mythic Creation is marked and corresponds to 11-8-3114 BCE (before the historical development of Mesoamerican culture itself).

On that day, the last act of creation by the gods involved the 'planting' of 3 stones to create the first hearth (3 Hearth-Stones of Creation) or cosmic center (3 Throne-Stones of Creation) — the Green Stone Place. These stones relate to the 3 domains of the Maya universe and their natural totems: jaguar/earth, snake/sky, sea/shark. The Center, Sky, and Earth gods are thus "set in order".

But we ought to remember that Maya Creation myth is a fluid mythopoetic narrative: a related or alternate happening is the dedication of Raised-up Sky — the Maya world tree a the center of the world — by First Father in a ritual involving the cardinal directions. In subsequent ages, the world tree will be embodied by the ruler and symbolized by the planted, erected stela — the 'great stone'.

The Creation act is understood as the speaking of a prophecy, the Conjuring of something from nothing. On that day, emerging from the dream-time, Time is materialized: "The image was made to appear".

The exclusive medium for Long Count dates recording is stone — primarily on stelae (also temple walls, stairways, lintels). Stone and stelae are not merely the medium and surface onto which dates are carved. They are the burden, and bundle, of the time periods themselves — set into the ground to commemorate the endings of those periods. We note that 'tun', the Maya word for the 360-day year period, is also the word for stone. All a direct echo of the beginnings of the World when the 3 hearthstones of Creation were 'planted'.

Earlier representations used a single vertical column and a dot-bar writing format. The Maya Classic period typically used 2 vertical columns with introductory glyph. Numbers would be represented in dot-bar or head variant style. Likewise, either a symbol or a head variant was employed for the periods themselves — always written in the same order, from highest to lowest. Independently from scribes, carving artists rendered the Long Count in their own style. The Late Classic period saw the use of complex full-figure forms — arguably the most visually intricate form of writing ever devised by humans.


Like a fractal wave, the Maya saw history as replicating itself on different scales. Like the Tzolkin, the Long Count (and associated Short Count) calendar is also built on the interplay of the sacred numbers 13 and 20. In addition the symbolism of the day-sign AJAW rises to the forefront.

In its abbreviated usual form, the Long Count is a 5 positional system based on vigesimal (base 20) counting. Note that this system makes use of zero for the first time in human history. Represented as a simple oval or more elaborated shell-like sign, zero is equated with completion, a key concept in the Maya understanding of Time.

The 5 periods of the Long Count are:

  • Kin = 1 day

  • Winal = 20 days

  • Tun = 360 days

  • Katun = 7200 days

  • Baktun = 144000 days

Each period is multiplied from the one before it by a factor of 20, with the exception of the tun: 18 winals makes 360 days — an approximation of the solar year.

A 13-katun cycle forms the prophetic Short Count calendar.
A 13-baktun cycle forms the abbreviated Long Count calendar.

Time is seen as distance, a road traveled. Recorded events are separated by distance numbers: intervals of rest-completion follow periods of bearing the burden of time. Great temporal journeys are undertook by the Lords of Time. At the resting point, once their share of travels is completed, they pass the burden onto the next set of gods, who then carry the bundle of days farther. Corresponding to calendar period endings, it becomes critical to commemorate and ritually facilitate these transitions to ensure the proper renewal of time. Calendar rites are always repetitive in nature, forever folding past and present. Tending to time periods to ensure their proper coming and going becomes much tending a cornfield: once the cycle of growth is complete, periods are harvested and ‘replanted’ or ‘repeated’.


Backbone of the native system of time reckoning. Katuns are considered living gods enthroned every 20 yrs. These period-endings are seen as an echo of the day of Maya Creation and celebrated with the erection of stelae and 'stone binding' rituals (‘katun’ means 20-tun ending or closing stone). In Maya iconography, bundles of time become legitimate thrones to sit upon and rule from. The equation: Time periods = enthroned rulers (mythic & historical) = erected stones. (See above)

This period, among other astronomical connections, is equivalent to the Jupiter/Saturn synodic cycle [99.3% accuracy] — which other astrologically-minded cultures also thought was the key to long-term time analysis.


Above all others this prophetic implies the notion that history is based on familiar recurring patterns. Giving us a flow of time that is readable and an exercise in pattern recognition. Past, present, and future are folded onto one another, forming a single patterned history. Prophecy is understood as an active and participatory reflection of events and trends of the past.

This period is equivalent to Pluto's orbital period [97% accuracy] and double the Uranus/Pluto synodic period [99.3% accuracy].


Completion and renewal of the Baktun involves a recitation of Maya creation, ancestry, and the setting up of the 4 directions.


This period constitutes a complete Sun, Age, or Great Cycle. The Long Count date (corresponding to 8-11-3114 BCE) marks the creation of the world. (See above)

This period is equivalent to 1/5 of a full precessional cycle [99.4% accuracy].


The full Long Count evokes longevity and permanence. It is easy to see how the enormous, incomprehensible spans of time, and the precise intermeshing of those cycles could elicit religious awe. We can also look at it as a purely numerological contrivance, a kind of number game being played — however serious the game.

The beginning date of the conventional Long Count — — is an abbreviation of a far larger structure. At full scale that date is written: Using 20 thirteens, the period equals a little over 28 octillion years from the true zero base date, the starting point of everything.

The system is not completely linear in its structure. It may have a linear facade but incorporates several feedback loops where a complete sequence of 13’s mathematically recur and time repeats itself. The Creation base date of 3114 BCE represents a point in a purely linear system of accumulated time. No hiccups or backward loops have occurred up to this point. But with the passing of 13 more baktuns, we come to 12-21-2012, the first of many future reoccurrences of Creation day. These repeating permutations involve a day of profound cosmological importance, when the gods "are set in order".

Pre-Creation dates indicating mythical events means that gods and heroes are already active in primordial, pre-historical time. Written as they are, these distant mythical dates look much like the historical ones: a mirroring of mythic time and historical time is achieved. Reflecting one another, symmetrical dates document the same event, one taking place in dream time, the other in historical time. Likewise, recorded dates taking place at future times (such as the end of the 13th baktun on 12-21-2012) bring further balance and symmetry, framing the historical narrative in the chronological center. Reiteration is the name of the game.

Playing with the times of the dreamtime does not have to be straightforward and can indeed be quite playful. For example, mixing a poetic series of related dates that are calendrically impossible with a real one. We note by the way that errors made by the scribes, as well as politically motivated ones, have also been found in Maya artifacts.


Scholars have suggested that the Long Count starting date was retroactively selected from celestial phenomena: each year on that day (Aug 11), the sun goes through the zenith at Southern Maya latitudes. In 3114 BCE, the 3 turtle stars of the constellation of Orion — stars mythologically connected to the 3 hearthstones of Creation — equally passed through the zenith at sunrise.

Others argue for a beginning date coinciding with a zenith passage of the sun while the end date (also marked, corresponding to 12-21-2012) falls on a winter solstice.

Some have further theorized a ‘galactic alignment’ scenario. In this highly hypothetical (not recognized by academic scholars) but very elegant and integrated model, the 2012 end date was selected to target the alignment of the solstice sun with the Dark Rift of the Milky Way. The cosmic crossroad invoked is formed by the Milky Way (associated with the ruler and the World Tree) and the Ecliptic (the double-headed serpent bar he holds). The center of that cross (astronomically located on the galactic equator and close to the actual galactic center itself) is the Dark Rift, known to the Mayas as Xibalba be, the ‘Road to the Underworld’. This dark area of the night sky makes one think of an engorged, womblike area and has been associated with the pregnant potency of caves and other mouth portals as a cosmic center. So the ancient Mayas may have looked for an era in the future when, at the time of rebirth (winter solstice) the Ajaw solar lord would find himself enthroned in the pregnant center (Dark Rift) of the cosmic crossroad (Milky Way / Ecliptic). If this theory is correct, it signifies that a precession-based galactic cosmology was pioneered in ancient Mesoamerica at the time of the Long Count inception.

The starting point date could have been, to a certain extent, arbitrarily chosen to fulfill pragmatic political ends. Opposite theories posit a far more enlightened, multidimensional, evolutionary held perspective. The answer ultimately depends which worldview one embraces or is more comfortable with.

Today, the date of 12-21-2012 has gained the status of an icon, a cultural symbol, to be used and often abused for purposes having little to do with its origins and the intentions of its creators. The complex, intricate, topic, has too easily fed the milleniarist ideas of the Judeo Christian tradition and the misplaced hopes of a childish New Age movement: we have witnessed a veritable tsunami of clever designer interpretations, recycled doomsday prophecies, and relabeled ascension techniques, with the unfortunate consequence of drowning voices coming from more serious inquiry.

Note that concepts of millenarianism and Apocalypse were deeply embedded within the cultures that were brought by Europeans to the Americas. These were easily appropriated by the Aztec and Maya cultures in the early colonial period. As the centuries passed, those narratives came to be viewed as an entirely Maya cultural phenomenon. They are often used as the basis for modern, popular interpretations of the Maya worldview.

At the same time, the modern-scientific academic establishment has tried to force-fit the mythopoetic, multidimensional cosmology of the ancient Mayas into the confines of its shortsighted linear flatland.

Yet competing viewpoints do not have to be mutually exclusive. An integrative approach should consider several angles simultaneously — each illuminating rather than obscuring the other with its reflection.

Finally: before putting forward any interpretation, should we not first humbly acknowledge the mystery that this Maya Long Count represent? This indeed could be its greatest gift to us. For in the end, the mystery remains. This is maybe how it should be: for mysteries can never be solved, only experienced.


Integrating linear and cyclical notions of time’s progression, the deep time of the Maya full Long Count calendar is beautiful in its symmetry, stunning in its scale, awe-inspiring in the virtuosity displayed by its internal mechanisms. It may be fair to say it constitutes the grandest expression of time ever articulated by the human mind. To this we can add that it is staggering in its possible implications with regards to human history and collective evolution.


Corresponding to the zero base date in the abbreviated Long Count — around 5200 yrs ago — human civilizations rose worldwide, including (it is now recognized) on the American continent.

What occurred culturally at that time finds a striking echo in the Long Count calendar: just as the advent of recorded history (signaled by the development of writing in Egypt and the Middle East) draws a clear line separating recorded history from dreamtime prehistory, so does the Maya Creation date of (8-11-3114 BCE), separating pre-Creation from post-Creation events. On that date Time materialized out of a primordial dreamtime and into history.

A symmetrical occurence has now occured on the lookalike date of (now corresponding to 12-21-2012). From this perspective, the new calendar shift marks the end of recorded history and herald the onset of post-history: a new step in evolutionary consciousness.


As previously noted, 5 Long Count cycles equal a full precessional cycle (25627yrs compared to 25772yrs — representing a match of 99.4% accuracy and a striking synchronicity). Whether or not intended by the ancient Mayas, both the old and new Long Count dates of (3114 BCE and 2012 CE respectively) can serve as anchoring stations in the 26000 years precessional cycle.

The Short Count and common form of the Long Count and the Short Count are essentially the 260-day Tzolkin on a vast scale. The 260 tuns of the Short Count and 260 katuns of the Long Count perfectly mimic the 260 days of the Tzolkin, perfectly function as macro-fractals of its 260-day construct. (see CALENDRICAL STRUCTURE below)

So we can certainly apply the gestational process of individual development (modeled on Tzolkin tones and rhythms) to the larger scale and scheme of collective evolution indicated by Short and Long Count cycles. The later cannot happen without the former anyway and the two processes remain intimately connected — just like the two calendars. All these cycles are, after all, generated from upon the same PHI-based construct (see below) — where the underlying process of organic growth becomes the ideal model of human and cosmic unfolding, the perfecting of matter through time.

In fact, the esoteric meaning of the Precessional cycle does suggest that it refers to a grand cycle of collective human unfoldment. But once again: even if the flow of time is somewhat readable, the evolution of the human species is a big thing, tied to the origins and purpose of life itself. It cannot be easily pinned down and definite answers are best avoided.


The time value ascribed to the basic unit determines the type of 260-unit fractal construct:

1 UNIT (kin) = 1 DAY
260 units = 260-day cycle = 1 TZOLKIN

1 UNIT (kin) = 1 TUN = 360 days

1 UNIT (kin) = 1 KATUN = 20 years
1 LONG COUNT CYCLE = 5200 yrs

informed by and freely adapted from:


David Stuart, The Order of Days: The Maya World and the Truth about 2012

Prudence M. Rice, Maya Calendar Origins: Monuments, Mythistory, and the Materialization of Time

John Major Jenkins, The 2012 Story: The Myths, Fallacies, and Truth Behind the Most Intriguing Date in History


Bruce Scofield, The Long and Short of The Mayan Calendar [essay]

Bruce Scofield, Signs of Time: An Introduction to Mesoamerican Astrology

John Major Jenkins, Maya Cosmogenesis 2012

John Major Jenkins, Galactic Alignment

Jose Arguelles: The Mayan Factor

Mark Van Stone, 2012: Science & Prophecy of the Ancient Maya


Peter & Roberta Markman, Masks of the Spirit: Image and Metaphor in Mesoamerica

Antony Aveni, The End of Time: The Maya Mystery of 2012

Matthew Restall & Amara Solari, 2012 and the End of The World: The Western Roots of the Maya Apocalypse

1 Plato, Timaeus

eternal plant of Time
in rapture and granite rooted

ever since the Eternal Return

breathing architecture of Time
the moving image of Eternity