The historic Maya oriented their lives by the heavens. Today, their descendants and Western scholars team up to understand their sophisticated astronomy

ZUNIL, GUATEMALA—As the Sun climbs over a hillside ceremony, Ixquik Poz Salanic invokes a day in the sacred calendar: T’zi’, a day for seeking justice. Before she passes the microphone to the next speaker, she counts to 13 in K’iche’, an Indigenous Maya language with more than 1 million present-day speakers in Guatemala’s central highlands. A few dozen onlookers nod along, from grandmothers in traditional dresses to visiting schoolchildren shifting politely in their seats. Then the crowd joins a counterclockwise procession around a fire at the mouth of a cave, shuffle dancing to the beat of three men playing marimba while they toss offerings of candles, copal, and incense to the wind-licked flames.

Poz Salanic, a lawyer, serves as a daykeeper for her community, which means she keeps track of a 260-day cycle—20 days counted 13 times—that informs Maya ritual life. In April, archaeologists announced they had deciphered a 2300-year-old inscription bearing a date in this same calendar format, proving it was in use millennia ago by the historic Maya, who lived across southeastern Mexico and Central America. In small villages like this one, the Maya calendar kept ticking through conquest and centuries of persecution.

As recently as the 1990s, “Everything we did today would have been called witchcraft,” says fellow daykeeper Roberto Poz Pérez, Poz Salanic’s father, after the day count concludes and everyone has enjoyed a…

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A version of this story appeared in Science, Vol 376, Issue 6597.

Today’s Feng Shui Tip for Dec. 21 – ‘Look On The Bright Side Day’ or ‘National Humbug Day?’

Is it a coincidence that the day associated with the end of the Mayan calendar falls on both ‘Look On The Bright Side Day’ and ‘National Humbug Day?’ I always try look on the bright side but I have a little help there, too. Some swear that we are currently going through an awakening, and sometimes this challenge can be exhilarating. But these shifts can often be just plain exhausting, too. In order to keep yourself as balanced as possible while also staying immune to over-exuberance, try a little all-natural remedy called Rhodiola. This herb will also aid in preventing you from succumbing to the Scrooges of the world. This time-tested and most reliable remedy strengthens the nervous system, fights depression, elevates energy, and increases the body’s resistance to outside invaders. A simply perfect alternative to the end of the world worries or those bah humbug blues!

By Ellen Whitehurst for