Project Proposal: The Mayan Calendar Wheel

Project Objective:

To create a multi-part, multi-disciplinary, multi-element, multi-media presentation oriented around the Mayan Calendar Wheel.

Uses and Benefits:

  1. Information visualization experiment
  2. Historical/archaeological education
  3. Facilitation of scientific/academic communication
  4. Current events and issues education
  5. Dynamic and community oriented information gathering device


  1. 3-D representation of Mayan Calendar Wheel
  2. Astronomical star position modeling component
  3. Hyper-linked historical and Archaeological information and media
  4. Community publishing and linking system
  5. Intelligent agents that automatically search for and integrate relevant information
  6. Collaborative community and educational project
  7. Physical installation of the project in two forms: small and large scale museum/public display

The Maya of the classic period were a fascinating people, with a sophisticated society, complex spiritual life, and amazing understandings of astronomy and mathematics. One of the most intriguing artifacts they created was their calendar, and one of the most remarkable manifestations of this calendar was what is known as the Calendar Wheel. This Wheel was a visualization of the various divisions that the Maya used to segment the year — a series of three interlocking rounds, like cogged wheels, that combined to represent each day’s individual significance. The a rating system representation at right demonstrates how the three wheels of 13, 20 and 360 days mesh to create a cycle that did not repeat itself for 52 years.

The simple forms of the cogged wheels, combined with the beauty of Mayan glyphs, lend themselves to representation in three-dimensional form. Current computer 3-D applications can easily be used to create a working representation of this unique and beautiful visualization of time. This model, itself a thing of beauty, could then present a fascinating and compelling starting point for exploration of a wide variety of subjects: mathematics, astronomy, culture, archaeology, history, geography, just to name a few. This exploration would take place via hyperlinks between the various elements of the wheel and pertinent subjects: a day auspicious for planting leads to an article about agriculture, an unlucky day reveals an animation of a chilling myth.

The project scope is not just limited to a neat collection of cool-looking videos and interesting articles. The Calendar Wheel project has at its heart a desire to serve a broad spectrum of society: students, interested lay-people, scholars and scientists, and the Mayan people themselves. How will it accomplish these goals?

  1. A component of the project will be creating an open system that allows individual contributors to add media or links to the project. This component will the employ the ideas of a "self organizing system" to harness the nature of Internet users to build and sustain the project.
  2. By the creation of an intelligent search agent or spider, that constantly trolls information resources for pertinent material, and then incorporates it into the proper context.
  3. A rating system that sorts the data to an appropriate interest or knowledge level. This also could employ self-organizing principles as well as organizer input.
  4. A community system that uses the Calendar Project to disseminate information about current situations in the Maya homelands, and help bridge the gap in the public consciousness between "antiquity" and the present day.
  5. A physical installation in a museum or other public place that involves real world visualization of the project as a housing for the interactive interface kiosks. This installation could vary in complexity between a massive representation suitable for major metropolitan museums, and a single kiosk for designed for portability and smaller venues.

These components draw together ideas from a number of media disciplines: documentary filmmaking, interactive community and the Internet, and museum science. All of them have been utilized to great effect in existing projects, but never, by this observer's reckoning, in this context and with this subject matter.

The project is conceived in a spirit of collaboration and social access. Its completion will require the collaborative efforts of designers, scholars, computer scientists, linguists, and the community. It is my hope that not only could it be an educational tool in the traditional sense, but also serve as an motivational forum to engage users and contributors from many walks of life and many different lands in an exchange of ideas and actions.

More on the Mayan Calendar:
Mayan Calendrics: The KIHN and the 260 and 365 Day Cycles