mayan numbers

Mayan culture

Throughout history, various numbering systems related to the development of great civilizations have been recorded. The most famous are: the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Romans, the Chinese, the system that we currently know as decimal or Indo-Arabic, and the Mayan system. The latter, used by pre-Columbian civilizations, consists of the decimal numbering system, that is, in base twenty. According to historical records, the system is vigesimal because it is based on the sum of the number of fingers and toes. The mayan numbers They have been well known throughout history and today.

For this reason, we are going to dedicate this article to tell you what the Mayan numbers are, what their characteristics, origin and importance are.

Mayan civilization

Mayan pyramid

Before talking about the number system of the Maya, we must briefly describe who they were in order to understand their enormous relevance in the American world and the importance of their number system.

The Maya were one of the major cultures of the cultural region known as Mesoamerica, occupying Mesoamerica from the XNUMXth century BC to the XNUMXth century AD. They were one of the most important towns in all of America and they played a key role in the evolution of cultures throughout the Americas and Mesoamerica. Although it was maintained for many centuries, the truth is that it did not have the same importance in all these times, but even so, its mathematical system spread to many towns.

Despite being such an ancient people, the reality is that the Maya were one of the most advanced cultures, achieving advances in the field of science ahead of many contemporary European nations, not only in American history but also in human history.

mayan numbers

mayan numbers

Associated with the Maya number system, we find the Maya script, a Maya pictographic system in which a large number of pictographs were combined with other symbols to form a writing system extensive and complex, which may be the first of a large Mesoamerican writing system. To draw a parallel with something better known, we can say that Mayan writing is very similar to Egyptian writing, especially with regard to hieroglyphs.

Through a mechanism similar to the glyphs used in writing, we discover the existence of a number system, which also uses a large number of symbols. These symbols are related to the day, the month and the year, since the Mayan number system was not focused on solving mathematical problems, but contrary to the vast majority of European peoples, their use of the number system was to measure the time, like the Mayan calendar. It was the most important element of civilization one.

The Mayan number system was vigesimal., symbols used to represent things like lines, snails, and dots, which is why the vast majority of symbols that represent numbers are very similar to each other. On the other hand, the system is also positional, changing the value of the number depending on where the symbol is, increasing the number through a system based on numerous heights.

It must also be taken into account that in this lesson we are talking about the basic numbering system of the Maya, since there were other, simpler systems, which used in only one aspect of life, such as the rarely used trade system or a system of head shapes used in inscriptions in which numbers are represented by head images.

Key features

To continue learning about the Mayan numbering system and Mayan numbers, we need to discuss the mechanisms used to write these numbers, which is essential to see examples to understand the importance of the symbols.

The Mayan digital writing system is based on 3 main elements:

  • Points Representing Units
  • Stripes symbolize 5
  • The snail was used to represent 0, a very unusual number in other Mesoamerican populations.

By using these three symbols, the mayans created the numbers from 0 to 20, where 0 is the snail, and the rest of the numbers are created by adding dashes and dots, like 6, represented by a line and a dot. The basic idea of ​​the first twenty numbers is to use lines and dots to create any number.

The Mayan numbering system used by the pre-Columbian Mayan civilization was the decimal numbering system, that is, base twenty. The source of this count base is the finger index obtained by adding the fingers and toes. In the Mayan numbering system, the graphics are based on symbols. The symbols used are dots and horizontal bars. and, in the case of the zero, ovals that resemble seashells.

The sum of five dots makes a bar, so if we were to write the number eight in Mayan notation, we would use three dots in a bar. The numbers 4, 5 and 20 were important to the Maya because they believed that 5 constituted a unit (the hand), while the number 4 was associated with the sum of the four units of 5, which constituted a person (20 fingers). .

The numerical representation of the Maya is subordinated to the order or level of transformation, and is always based on 20 and its multiples. According to history, the calculus of the Mayans first used the sign of zero to justify the null value. The organization of the numbers in the number houses is also assigned to the Mayan numeral system.

The importance of Mayan numbers

importance mayan numbers

For numbers starting at twenty, the weight of the entered position value changes the number based on the vertical height the number is at. The idea is that the number remains in the area below, any number from 0 to 20, and then another number is put in the top zone, multiplied by 20.

The different levels indicate the number of times the first number is multiplied by twenty, and the height of the largest number is also different.

Some examples of the Mayan numbering system are the following:

  • 25: The top dot is multiplied by twenty, and the bottom line represents five.
  • 20: A dot above is multiplied by twenty, and a snail below represents zero.
  • 61: The top three dots are multiplied by twenty, which is 60, and the bottom dot represents 1.
  • 122: The two dots at the bottom represent 2, and the dot and line at the top represent the product of 20.
  • 8000: One point three with snails, each snail represents a zero, and due to the existence of three levels, points three times twenty.

I hope that with this information you can learn more about mesh numbers and their importance.

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