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The Mayan numeral system was the system to represent numbers and calendar dates in the Maya civilization. It was a vigesimal (base-20) positional numeral system. The numerals are made up of three symbols; zero (shell shape, with the plastron uppermost), one (a dot) and five (a bar).

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.

Maya mathematics constituted the most sophisticated mathematical system ever developed in the Americas. The Maya counting system required only three symbols: a dot representing a value of one, a bar representing five, and a shell representing zero.

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.

The first recorded zero appeared in Mesopotamia around 3 B.C. The Mayans invented it independently circa 4 A.D. It was later devised in India in the mid-fifth century, spread to Cambodia near the end of the seventh century, and into China and the Islamic countries at the end of the eighth.

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.

vigesimal

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).

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.

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.

So where we learn to count on our fingers, Maya children counted on their fingers and toes. The numbers above nineteen are indicated on the basis of their vertical position. The Maya used a vigesimal ( Base – 20 ) system, so each position is a power of twenty .

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. Background.

Powers | Base-Ten Value | Place Name |
---|---|---|

20^{} |
1 | Hun |

Of all the ancient calendar systems, the Maya and other Mesoamerican systems are the most complex and intricate. They used 20-day months, and had two calendar years: the 260-day Sacred Round, or tzolkin , and the 365-day Vague Year, or haab . These two calendars coincided every 52 years.

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