The Mayan Calendar

Contributor: Brian Anthony. Lesson ID: 12612

You have calendars in your home, in your wallet, on your computer, and maybe even on your watch. How would you like to carry a 25-ton calendar around? Be grateful you are not an ancient Mayan!


World, World Cultures

learning style
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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The image above is a calendar. No, really!

Suppose you had to check a date on this calendar.

  • How would you start?
  • Do you know what year you are living in right now?

This lesson was last updated in 2024.

  • Where did that number come from, and who decided?

As it turns out, there are many ways to tell time. The world's many cultures came up with many different kinds of calendars, and they created them for various reasons.

Today, people use calendars to plan things — they can check their calendars to see if they have any necessary appointments and plot out their vacation days well in advance. In ancient times, calendars were often used for even more critical purposes, like keeping the universe balanced by performing rituals on time!

As you learn about the three major types of calendars, write down the answers to the following questions in your notebook or journal.

  • What are the three major types of calendars?
  • What heavenly body or bodies does each one use to measure time?
  • Which cultures use each type?

Continue reading to find the answers.

Most calendars are based on astronomy. People observed the movements of the sun, moon, stars, planets, and other heavenly bodies. They noticed patterns and cycles repeating themselves time and again. This led to the creation of three major calendars: solar, lunar, and lunisolar.

A solar calendar is a calendar that measures the passage of time against the movement of the sun. You may say we are moving, and the sun stands still. But to ancient people, it didn't look that way. There are 365.242 days in a solar calendar. The Gregorian calendar, used in the U.S., Europe, and much of the world today, is solar.

The second type of calendar is lunar. Can you guess which heavenly body it uses to measure time? It is the moon. The lunar month begins when the first sliver of the moon crescent is sighted and ends when the last crescent of the moon disappears. Lunar years are shorter, at just about 354 days. Lunar months occur about 11 days earlier each year. The Islamic Hijri calendar is one example of a lunar calendar.

The third type of calendar, the lunisolar, mixes the first two. It follows lunar months but adds months occasionally to even things out with the solar year. The Hebrew and Chinese calendars are examples of lunisolar calendars.

When you are finished collecting your information from the reading, reflect on the following question and record your response in your notebook or journal.

  • Which of these calendar systems do you think is most accurate and why?

One of the most mysterious and exciting of all the calendars in the world is the Mayan calendar.

Move on to the Got It? section, where you will collect more information about the Mayan calendar.

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