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NEW YEAR, NEW CYCLE, NEW FIRE
by ©Robert F. Smith 1995; 2014 version 2
Adopting Edmonson's bold approach to the origin and evolution of the basic Mesoamerican calendar, it is possible to see the variability and unity in the way various Mesoamerican peoples used the basic format. The use of New Fire is a prime example of the application of a particular ritual to open and close several related cycles of time.
Annual Mesoamerican Cycles According to Munro Edmonson, the Olmec invented the Meso-american calendar already in the early 1st millennium B.C., i.e., a 260-day Sacred Round of 13 months and 20 named days meshed with a vague solar calendar of 365 days, and with 4 year bearers (Edmonson 1988:20-2,258,98-100,146; cf. Léon-Portilla 1980:30-1; Miller & Taube 1993:192-3), "terminally dated, and ending every fourth year on the day Lord" (Edmonson 1988:196). This constituted the Calendar Round that took 18,980 days (52 years x 365 days = 260 years x 73 years) to come around again to its beginning point. The Olmec soon began keeping a Long Count of 360-day years (23,25-30, 1001,194,196), and somewhere along the line a Short Count of 93,600 days (13x20x360) was added to the basic calendric system (Weaver 1993:145-52). Since the Chilam Balam of Chumayel makes the connection, it seems reasonable to accept the vigesimal basis of the 20-day count (Mayan uinal) as directly related to the "score" of digits possessed by a "man" (uinic), while its multiple 13 gives us the 260 days typical of human gestation (Edmonson & Bricker 1985:50; Edmonson 1988:98; Wright 1989:249-250 citing Brotherston 1979:250-251; Schele 1990:81; Miller & Taube 1993:48; Taube 1995).
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------CALENDRIC CHART days Mayan Aztec English ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------1 kin “sun” tonalli day  [uayeb nemontemi intercalary days] 13 (trecena) 18 20 uinal (veintena) month, "man" u meztli month, "moon" 260 (13x20= 5x52) tzol kin tonalpohualli Sacred Round 360 (18x20) tun“stone” metzlipohualli "moon-count" 365 (18x20+5) haab xíhuitl vague solar year 584 Venus cycle 780 (3x260) Mars cycle 819 (7x9x13) 1800 (5x360) hotun 2920 (5x584= 8x365) 3600 (10x360= ½ katun) lahuntun 5400 (15x360) holahuntun 7200 (20x360) katun 18980 (52x365= 73x260) hunab xiuhmolpilli Calendar Round 37960 (2x52x365= 65x584) huehuetiliztli Great Cycle 93600 (13x20x360) may (13 katuns) Short Count 144000 (400x360) baktun (20 katuns) 550420 (29x18,980= 1,508 365-day years= 1,507 tropical years) 1872000 (13x144000) (13 baktuns) Mayan Era 2880000 (8000x360) pictun 360 "loads" (cacao) 57600000 (160000x360) calabtun 20x360 "loads" 1152000000 kinchiltun (tzotzceh) 360 calabtuns 10 2.304x10 alautun 64,000,000 tuns ---------------------------------------------------------------------(Roys 1943:86; Caso 1971:333-5,338-43,347; A. Miller in Codex Nuttall 1975:xiv; Fought 1985:134; Edmonson 1988:277; Wright 1989:106-7; Schele 1990:78-82; Berdan & Anawalt in Codex Mendoza 1992:II:7n; Freidel 1993:106,425-6; Miller & Taube 1993:32-3,48-54; Taube 1995) The Olmec "Long Count" employed place-value notation such that 200=1, 201=20, 18x201=360, 18x202 =7,200, 18x203 =144,000, i.e., following an Initial Series glyph, the baktun, katun, tun, uinal, and kin would be given, e.g., 184.108.40.206.0 is the Long Count base date at August 11, 3114 B.C.= 584,283 Julian Day count (Edmonson 1988:19-20,194-6; Schele 1990:82,430-1,507 & Freidel 1993:61-3,95,423 prefer the 584,285 Julian Day correlation for August 13, 3114 B.C.; Weaver 1993:151-8; Staszkow 1991:13; cf. Miller & Taube 1993:50 who prefer a base date of August 2, 3114 B.C.).
These calendric cycles were "intermeshed" with one another, and even with the 584-day Venus cycle, the 780-day Mars cycle, and various lunar cycles of 4,400 days (part of the Supplementary Series, including an 819-day cycle), 37960 days, etc., and ran continuously and concurrently (Miller & Taube 1993:50-54; Caso 1971:348; Pasztory 1983:61) throughout Mesoamerica (Edmonson terms the whole area "Anahuac" 1988:passim; Schele 1990:79-80). Inter-Elite Communication Approaching the matter of the diffusion of great art and architecture throughout Mesoamerica, Rosemary Sharp has argued that such is undoubtedly a function of commonality in "social, economic, political," and other shared concerns of the entrepreneurial and ruling elites (Sharp 1978:168-9). For example, according to Muriel Weaver, [a]lthough Puuc sites do not seem to conform to any particular plan, they paid special attention to the twice yearly zenith passage of the sun. Orientation of buildings are skewed to the sunset, anticipating the zenith passage by 20 days, one uinal (Weaver 1993:345). Moreover, accompanying the greca (step-fret design) and Classic Puuc styles was the systematic "coding of calendrical data into architecture" from Teotihuacán, through El Tajín, to Chichén Itzá: There are 365 stone sculptures on the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, 365 niches on the Pyramid of the Niches, and 365 steps to the top of El Castillo; there are 4 staircases of 13 steps each (= 52) on the small platform atop the Temple of Quetzalcoatl; the number of step-frets on the central ramps of the Pyramid of the Niches is estimated at 13 each; there are 52 panels on El Castillo; the Palace of the Governors at Uxmal has "13 doors leading to 20 vaulted chambers," and "13 step-frets on each side of the central element in the front facade," and that is only once over lightly (Sharp 1978:167; cf. Wright 1989:343). Divination by handcasting (sortilege) was done in Oaxaca and Michoacan with a 52-space divination board -- something like the Mesoamerican game of chance, Patolli -- in order to find a 3
particular day, and then consulting the Tonalamatl (containing the Tonalpohualli), with its 5 rows of 52 = 260 days, as depicted in the Codex Borgia pp. 1-8 (Taube 1995). So, too, "The Flying Pole Dance [El Volador] ranges from at least Guatemala to the Huaxteca" (Edmonson 1985:5), featuring 4 birdmen, tied at the ankles, slowly descending to music and gracefully circling a pole 13 times before they touch down (4x13=52; Taube 1995, noting that this is depicted in some Mixteca-Puebla style MSS, such as Codex Fejérváry-Mayer). All this points up, in particular, the importance of the Calendar Round and its 4 year bearers (gods of the 4 quarters of the earth), though other aspects of the complex system of divinatory, ritual, and festival cycles keyed to the calendar were had in common throughout Mesoamerica (Edmonson 1988:146,196), and featuring religious pluralism and astronomical unity (274).
New Year, New Fire The New Year is a parade example of this unity and diversity: "The year count was primarily a ritual calendar for general civic ceremonial, and its primary focus was on the New Year rites" (Edmonson 1988:214). In summarizing the elaborate New Year rites in Colonial Yucatan, which he considered "the most important" of all rites, Ralph Roys noted that, not only were local officials installed and old incumbents dismissed at that time (cf. Wright 1989:338), but
a structure was built of bundles of faggots in the temple court. This was set on fire, and the burning coals were leveled off; then a priest dressed in his ceremonial bark-cloth robe and miter, . . passed over the fire barefoot and unscathed, . . (Roys 1943:80-1).
In addition there was dancing, including a dance with high stilts (Roys 1943:29), and processions following each of the cardinal directions (Freidel 1993:164 citing Landa). All this went on during the 5 intercalary uayeb days preceding the actual New Year (Freidel 1993:287,466-7 citing Landa). Pebbles may have been involved, as they are today in Chamula New Year rites (Wright 1989:272).
Ronald Wright's experience with current New Year rites in highland Guatemala include a cave, fire, incense, smoke, and various recitations, including words from the Popol Vuh (Wright 1989:208-10, citing Tedlock's 1985 trans. pp. 221-2). This is reminiscent of Mircea Eliade’s observation that "at the end of the year all fires are extinguished (a re-enactment of the Cosmic night), and rekindled on New Year's Day (this is an enactment of the Cosmogony, the rebirth of the world)" (Eliade 1971:40). However, while the Maya observed the New Fire ceremony every year, the Aztecs celebrated it every 52 years, i.e., at the end of the Calendar Round (Taube 1995), unless the annual festival of Xiuhtecutli Opecauhqui on the 10th of Izcalli is actually a New Year rite in disguise (Sahagún 1976:65-66, with human sacrifice each 4th year). According to Berdan & Anawalt, the "New Fire Ceremony" (Xiuhmolpilli "Binding of the Years" at the close of each Calendar Round) "was one of the most profound of the Aztec ritual" cycle (Codex Mendoza 1992:II:5): Items of personal property were trashed, statutes of the gods placed in water, all fires put out for the 5 unlucky days (nemontemi, intercalary days at year's end), and the people in the Valley of Mexico sat in solemn and fearful vigil in darkness until, at around midnight, above Culhuacan, the New Fire was lit with a fire drill on the chest of a sacrificial victim on a volcano called Huixachtecatl "Hill of the Prickly Bush" = Cerro de la Estrella "Hill of the Star" = Citlaltepec (Miller & Taube 1993:87; Berdan & Anawalt in Codex Mendoza 1992:II:5-6; Cline 1986:2; Davies 1974:94-5; Pasztory 1983:61,210). From this the priests lit a huge bonfire on the mount (Codex Mendoza 1992:II:6; Pasztory 1983:colorplate 35 from Codex Borbonicus p. 34). People then cut themselves and their children and spattered blood toward the New Fire, while fire priests rushed to rekindle the fire in the Temple of Huitzilopochtli in Tenochtitlán, then in their own houses, and then in the houses of all the people. "This was followed by much rejoicing; quails were decapitated, and special amaranth seed-cakes, spread with honey were eaten" (Davies 1974:95-6, citing Sahagún).
Finally, having been ceremonially burned, the old 52-year cycle would be ritually interred, e.g., in the "Altars of Skulls" tomb at Tenochtitlán, in the form of stone bundles called xiuhmolpilli -models of bundles of 52 reeds (Nicholson 1971:117,122,126, and fig. 53; Pasztory 1983:165,248, plates 124,258). Of course, as Eduard Seler noted, the last such New Fire Ceremony (in 1507) was celebrated a bit late -- it was put off by the Aztecs for 2 months until the Feast of Huitzilopochtli, fire-god and patron of the Aztecs, i.e., at the feast of Panquetzaliztli (Codex Vaticanus No 3773 1902:91, citing Codex Borbonicus 34; Nicholson 1971:432, fig. 48). Another such New Fire Ceremony is depicted as taking place at the beginning of a 52-year cycle at Chapultepec ca. 1319 A.D. (Davies 1974:29; cf. Bolde 1980). The Codex Nuttall, p. 19, starts with 3 divine beings bringing down the New Year from the sky at the new Calendar Round on day 12 Wind and year 7 Rabbit just above a 52-reed bundle. The all night vigil preceding the New Year is also depicted in the Codices Borgia (p. 49) and Vaticanus B (p. 19), both with the twisted grass sign (malinalli) atop and reed (acatl), the year bearer, below, while the Tzitzimime-sky demons threaten to come down and eat everyone if the new cycle does not begin (Taube 1993:12; Taube 1995; Miller & Taube 1993:87,176). The New Fire drill itself is widely depicted: Codex Mendoza 1992:IV:9, and folio 2 recto; Bolde 1980:15, showing Codex Boturini p. 6; Codex Borgia p. 46 (Smoke-Eye the priest drilling fire on the navel of the god Xiuhtecuhtli-Fire Serpent, as explained by Byland p. xxvi). Origins Edmonson places the earliest dated example of a New Fire ceremony at the New Year, with fire drill and Year Bearer, in 667 B.C., on the Tapijulapa Ax of Olmec vintage (Edmonson 1988:21):
It begins the year . . . on the universally acknowledged first day of the day count, and names it for the last day of the day count. From the glyphs used, it is likely that the Olmec name for
the first day was Sun (compare Zapotec Day, Tezuistlatec Light) rather than Alligator, and that the last day was Lord (compare Maya Lord, Mixe Eye) rather than Flower (Edmonson 1988:100).
Edmonson further maintains that the Olmec inaugurated the Long Count of 360-day years at the close of the last tun of the 6th baktun (year's end and also the beginning of a new Calendar Round) on June 13, 355 B.C. (Edmonson 1988:100-1,194). The Maya celebrated baktun-endings with major ritual dramatic presentations, as in the 20-act performance at Merida in 1618, and as at Mayapán for the previous baktun-ending in 1224 A.D. (Edmonson & Bricker 1985:51, citing Edmonson "The Baktun Ceremonial of 1618" in Benson, ed., Fourth Palenque Round Table), or for the 13-act Ceremonial of the May in 1824 at Tzimin, in which the Itzá and Xiu together began a new 13-katun cycle Short Count, as they had earlier in 1539 in Mayapán and Merida (Edmonson & Bricker 1985:49,53; cf. Wright 1989:338-9). The May anniversary could also be applied to the timing of warfare, as in 439 and 695 A.D. (Schele 1990:158,202-3,205,208-9). Susanna Ekholm thought that she found archeological evidence for the celebration of the end of baktun 9 in 830 A.D. at Lagartero (Wright 1989:271-2), while Clemency Coggins has suggested "that Chichén Itzá was built specifically to celebrate and symbolize" that very baktun 9 ending along with the simultaneous end of a Mexican Calendar Round, apparently to "forestall a cosmic cataclysm at this liminal time" -- as foreseen there and then by both Mexican and Maya -- Coggins placing the drilling of New Fire on the chest of a Chac-Mool at the zenith of the Pleiades (Wright 1989:342-3). Finally, Karl Taube has argued that early sources consistently have a destructive flood immediately preceding the New Year, making this a time of dread and of re-creation (Freidel 1993:107).
Disparities The disparities among the several Mesoamerican calendars, the differences of identification or naming of year bearers, etc., are mostly functions of "predictable mathematical transformations" (Edmonson 1988:276; cf. Wright 1989:214-5,246-8). Edmonson concludes that
perhaps the most astonishing thing about the calendar of Anahuac [Mesoamerica] is its historicity. By its combination of historical unity and conscious and disciplined diversity, it embodies in the structure of its New Years' dates a remarkably permanent and detailed record of its origin and development (1988:277).
Some Dated Items1 Earspool (Olmec), Museo de Cuicuilco, Valley of Mexico 679 B.C. 9-2 220.127.116.11.0 2 Ahau 3 Ceh Tikal/ 2 Lord 19 F Tapijulapa Axe (Olmec), Simojovel, Chiapas, Mexico 667 B.C. 8-30 18.104.22.168.0 1 Ahau 3 Ceh T/ 1 Lord 19 F Stone Slab, San José Mogote, Oaxaca, Mexico ca. 600 B.C.? 260-day count 1 Earthquake Stela 12 (Zapotec), Monte Alban I, Oaxaca 594 B.C. 1-28 22.214.171.124.9 8 Muluc 7 Uo T/ 8 Niça 6 O Stela 13 (Zapotec/Olmec), Monte Alban I, Oaxaca 563 B.C. 8-4 126.96.36.199.0 1 Ahau 3 Ceh T/ 1 Lào 17 F/ 1 Lord 19 F Stela 17 (Zapotec), Monte Alban I, Stela 15 (Zapotec), Monte Alban I 528 B.C. 2-12 188.8.131.52.11 2 Chuen 19 Zip T/ 2 Pilloo 18 P [inauguration of Olmec Long Count] 355 B.C. 6-13 184.108.40.206.0 1 Ahau 3 Ceh T [Altar I, Copàn, Honduras] [321 B.C. 10-9 220.127.116.11.0
[inauguration of Tikal Calendar] 236 B.C. 9-16 18.104.22.168.0 11 Ahau 8 Cumku T Monument 13, Los Mangales, Salamá Valley, Guatemala Monument 14 " " " " bet/500 - 200 B.C. cycle 7. Tablet 14 (Zapotec), Mound J, Monte Alban II 229 B.C. 7-3 22.214.171.124.3 11 Akbal 16 Kankin T/ 11 Pée 10 I Tablet 10 (Zapotec), Mound J, Monte Alban II 209 B.C. 10-18 126.96.36.199.14 12 Ix 2 Uo T/ 112 Pèche 1 O Stela 10 (Olmec/Mayan), Kaminaljuyú, Guatemala (cf. Stela 11) 147 B.C. 11-10? 188.8.131.52.2? 8 Ik 0 Zotz' T/ 8 Wind 16 P
Following Edmonson 1988:20-33; Weaver 1993:157-160; Justeson, et al., 1988:95-151; Schele & Freidel 1990; Coe, Snow, and Benson 1986. The Julian dates are listed by year, month, and day.
Stela 2 (Olmec), Mound 5b, Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas 36 B.C. 7-8 184.108.40.206.13 6 Ben 16 Xul T/ 6 Cane 15 A Stela C (Olmec), Tres Zapotes, Vera Cruz, Mexico 32 B.C. 9-3 220.127.116.11.18 6 Etz'nab 1 Uo T/ 6 Flint 2 O Monument 1 (Mayan), Chalchuapa, El Salvador bet/ 100 B.C. - 200 A.D. Stela 1 (Olmec/Maya), El Baúl, Guatemala 37 A.D. 3-4 18.104.22.168.12 12 Eb 0 Ceh T/ 12 Jaw Stela 2, Abaj Takalik (Columba), Guatemala cycle 7. Miscellaneous Monument 60, Izapa, Chiapas 47 A.D. 12-11 22.214.171.124.6 7 Cimi 19 Yaxkin T/ 7 Death DO Celt (greenstone, Dumbarton Oaks) 120 A.D. 126.96.36.199.0 (period ending) Stela 5 (Olmec), Abaj Takalik 126 A.D. 6-4 188.8.131.52.11 7 Chuen 14 Kayab T Stela 1 (Mixe-Zoque), La Mojarra, Vera Cruz 143 A.D. 5-21? 184.108.40.206.5. 13 Chiccan 3 Kayab 156 A.D. 7-13? 220.127.116.11.7. 5 Manik 5 Pop
Stela 1 (south side), Copàn, Honduras cf. Stela 17, Copàn 159 A.D. 12-18 18.104.22.168.0 160 A.D. 7-13 8.6. kingdom established as political entity Tuxtla Statuette (Olmec/Mixe-Zoque), San Andrés Tuxtla, Vera Cruz 162 A.D. 3-13 22.214.171.124.17 8 Caban 0 Kankin T/ 8 Quake (16 H) Codex Dresden p. 70 [176 A.D. 2-24 126.96.36.199.14
9 Ix 7 Mac T] retrospective date
Jadeite Earflare (Mayan), Pomona, Belize bet/ 100 - 250 A.D., or much earlier shift in power from El Mirador to Tikal [ca. 179 A.D. 188.8.131.52.0 Late Preclassic to Early Classic -- during Katun 8 Ahau] retrospective 10
Hauberg Stela (Mayan), southern Maya lowlands 199 A.D. 10-7 184.108.40.206.0 3 Ahau 13 Xul T/ 3 Ahau 12 Xul C eruption of Ilopongo Volcano, El Salvador [ca. 260 A.D. ±85 ca. 220.127.116.11.0 in Katun 13 Ahau] Stela 29 (Mayan), Tikal, Guatemala 292 A.D. 7-6 18.104.22.168.15 13 Men 3 Zip T Hieroglyphic Stair 1, Yaxchilán, Chiapas [320 A.D. 8-2 22.214.171.124.6 Yat-Balam founds dynasty] retrospective Leyden Plaque (Mayan royal belt ornament, Tikal), Guatemala 320 A.D. 9-14 126.96.36.199.12 1 Eb (G5) 0 Yaxkin T Stela 9, Uaxactún, Guatemala 328 A.D. 188.8.131.52.15 Stela 39, Tikal 376 A.D. 10-18 184.108.40.206.0 Great-Jaguar-Paw ends katun at Tikal Stelae 5 & 22, Uaxactún (Tikal conquers Uaxactún) Stela 31 & Ballcourt Marker 6C-XVI, Tikal 378 A.D. 1-13 220.127.116.11.12 11 Eb 15 Mac 379 A.D. 9-10 18.104.22.168.17 Accession of Curl-Snout at Tikal Stela 4, Uaxactún Stela 18, Tikal 396 A.D. 7-5 22.214.171.124.0 katun-ending at Uaxactún and Tikal Monument 1, El Portón, Guatemala ca. 400 A.D. Stone 1, Tomb 1 (Ñuiñe), Yucuñudahui, Oaxaca 426 A.D. 1-29 126.96.36.199.0 9 Ahau 3 Muan T/ 9 Flower 7 J Stela J, Copàn broken stela, Temple 10L-26, Copàn 435 A.D. 12-11 188.8.131.52.0 8 Ahau 13 Ceh Yax-Kuk-Mo' performs rite Stela 31, Tikal (celebrates conquest of Uaxactún) 439 A.D. 6-11 184.108.40.206.18 last event on Stela: bloodletting ceremony of Stormy-Sky, during Katun 8 Ahau 445 A.D. 220.127.116.11.0
Stela 20, Copàn, Honduras 4 A.D. 18.104.22.168.0 initial monument there Stela 21, Quiriguà, Guatemala 4 A.D. 22.214.171.124.0 initial monument there Stelae 7, 9, 15, and 27, Tikal 495 A.D. 126.96.36.199.0 Stela 6, Tikal 514 A.D. 188.8.131.52.0 Stela 26, Tikal 534 A.D. 184.108.40.206.0
Claw Skull sole ruler?
posthumous for Claw Skull
Altar 21 (A Group Ball Court), Caracol, Belize 562 A.D. 220.127.116.11.2 Lord Water defeats Tikal 633 A.D. 18.104.22.168.0 dedicated 1 Ahau 8 Kayab Tablet of the Palace, Palenque, Chiapas 643 A.D. 22.214.171.124.0 birth of Kan-Xul II Altar L, Quiriguà 652 A.D. 126.96.36.199.0 12 Ahau 8 Ceh 653 A.D. 6-2 188.8.131.52.11 9 Chuen 14 Zec
Temple 33, Tikal 695 A.D. 184.108.40.206.18 capture of Jaguar-Paw of Calakmul 695 A.D. 9-17 220.127.116.11.18 bloodletting ceremony of Ah-Cacaw (Ruler A), during Katun 8 Ahau Lintel 21, Yaxchilán, Chiapas 752 A.D. 18.104.22.168.9 7 Muluc 17 Tzec Lintel 8, Temple 42, Yaxchilán 755 A.D. 5-6 7 Imix 14 Tzec Stela C, Copán, Honduras 782 A.D. 22.214.171.124.0
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