Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

Sun, Corn, and the Calendar

Nal: Ear of corn

At the tropical latitudes of the Maya landscape, the stars rise and set more vertically than in places further from the equator. The Sun passes directly overhead, crossing the zenith twice a year. These astronomical patterns, as well as the planting and harvesting cycles of corn, influenced Maya culture and the Maya sense of time. The Maya agricultural 365-day calendar is a reflection of the yearly solar cycle. The Maya ceremonial 260-day calendar is connected to the relationships between the agricultural calendar, the zenith passage of the Sun, and the time it takes corn to mature. Thus, the Sun, corn, and important cycles in the Maya Calendar system are interconnected.

When we start to analyze cycles of time, we realize that the zenith passage is critical for life. When the Sun is directly overhead, its divine rays feed the corn plants, and the agricultural cycle is successful.” Alonso Méndez, Tzeltal Maya, Cultural Astronomer