The Maya calendar isn’t unique. It’s based on one used in several pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilisations, with early roots going back to at least the 5th century BCE. It has much in common with earlier civilisations like the Zapotec and Olmec, and later ones like the Mixtec and the Aztec. The calendar consists of multiple cycles of differing lengths which are used simultaneously.
THE HAAB: This is a 365-day solar calendar divided into 19 months. One of the 19 is just 5 days long, with the other 18 stretching to 20 days each. On the coin, the representative glyphs can be seen in the inner ring surrounding the portrait. Each represents a monthly personality.
THE TZOLKIN: Meaning ‘the distribution of the days’, the Tzolkin is a 260-day calendar comprised of twenty, 13-day periods. Its primary function was to set the time of religious and ceremonial events. The next ring out as depicted on the coin has them represented by alternating symbols of triangles and ‘castles’.
THE LONG COUNT: Also called the Universal Cycle, each one is a staggering 2.88 million days in length. This ties in with the destruction myth that entered popular culture in 2012, as each cycle is said to end with the destruction and recreation of the universe. It is currently accepted that this calendar began on August 11, 3114 BCE in the Gregorian calendar.
The result of combining the three is a Calendar Round. Each round has 18,980 unique date combinations and they are used to define the days in a 52-year cycle. This is a simplified description of this overly complicated system for recording the date, and it’s of no surprise that its use didn’t spread further, although there are still communities in the region that use it. The good news is that we’ll have to wait almost 8,000 years for the next round of crap Hollywood doomsday movies to be released…