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Maya numbers are based around the number 20, so in Maya numbers , 20 is a 1 and a 0. So write a dot for the 1 and leave a gap below it. Then below the gap, draw a clamshell – the Mayan symbol for zero. To write numbers from 21–39, think of them as 20 plus something.

The Maya used the vigesimal system for their calculations – a system based on 20 rather than 10. This means that instead of the 1, 10, 100, 1,000 and 10,000 of our mathematical system , the Maya used 1, 20, 400, 8,000 and 160,000.

The Mayan and other Mesoamerican cultures used a vigesimal number system based on base 20, (and, to some extent, base 5), probably originally developed from counting on fingers and toes. The numerals consisted of only three symbols: zero, represented as a shell shape; one, a dot; and five, a bar.

The Babylonians used a base-sixty (sexigesimal) system . In this chapter, we wrap up with a specific example of a civilization that actually used a base system other than 10. The Mayan civilization is generally dated from 1500 BCE to 1700 CE.

Mayans

The Babylonian cuneiform method of recording quantities, approximately 5000 years old, is among the oldest numeral systems in existence. They developed a base-60 (sexidecimal) system with numbers less than sixty represented in base-ten.

Beginning in the 6th century BC with the Pythagoreans , with Greek mathematics the Ancient Greeks began a systematic study of mathematics as a subject in its own right. Around 300 BC, Euclid introduced the axiomatic method still used in mathematics today, consisting of definition, axiom, theorem, and proof.

Similar to the number system we use today , the Mayan system operated with place values. To achieve this place value system they developed the idea of a zero placeholder. The Mayan system is in base 20 (vigesimal) rather than base 10 (decimal). This system also uses a different digit representation.

During the Classic era, the Mayas built a system of kingdoms and small empires. Because of their isolation from the great powers of the time oversea, the Mayans had a significant lack of technology. They had no draft animals (including horses or oxen), pulleys, wheel-based transportation, or any metal tools.

The Maya used the following names for their powers of twenty: kal (20), bak (400), pic (8,000), calab (160,000), kinchil (3,200,000) and alau (64,000,000).

Two thousand years ago, the ancient Maya developed one of the most advanced civilizations in the Americas. They developed a written language of hieroglyphs and invented the mathematical concept of zero. With their expertise in astronomy and mathematics, the Maya developed a complex and accurate calendar system.

Any number higher than 19 units in the second position is written using units of the third position. A unit of the third position is worth 400 (20 x 20), so to write 401 a dot goes in the first position, a zero in the second and a dot in the third.

Pyramids were used not only as temples and focal points for Maya religious practices where offerings were made to the gods but also as gigantic tombs for deceased rulers, their partners, sacrificial victims, and precious goods.

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