How Did the Maya Contribute to the Field of Mathematics?
The Maya were indigenous people of Central America who lived around 2600 BC. They developed a sophisticated mathematical system and used it to establish a calendar, trade, and agriculture. Today, seven million Maya live in Guatemala, Belize and Mexico.
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Although the ancient Maya were one of the first civilizations to use zero in maths, most cultures did not understand its value. The only exception was the Gupta Empire in India. In fact, there is evidence that the Maya had the most advanced mathematics of any of the civilizations that existed in the Americas.
One of the earliest systems of metrology, the Maya had a sophisticated set of number symbols that allowed the uneducated to do simple arithmetic. These numbers included the number one, five and zero. However, the Maya did not use words for the large numbers. This is due to a difference in geography between the Mesoamerican civilization and the Old World civilizations.
The Maya calendar was a complex system that consisted of 20 named days. It included a 5-day period that was considered unlucky. This was followed by thirteen cycles of 20 named days. Eventually, the cycle was extended to a long count that was based on a zero date in 3113 bce.
Maya astronomy played an important role in their religion. They knew the dates of astrological events and were able to predict solar eclipses. Additionally, they could accurately determine the position of the moon and Venus. All this helped the Maya to develop a precise calendar.
During the Classic Maya Period, which lasted from 250 to 950 CE, the Maya reached their apex of power. Several great cities were established. Their temples and buildings were constructed without metal tools. Moreover, they were renowned for their elaborate ceremonial architecture. Many of the ruins can still be seen in the Yucatan region, including Chichen Itza, which was once the largest of its kind in the world.
The Maya’s knowledge of astronomy was also demonstrated in their architecture. Astronomical knowledge and cosmological beliefs were recorded in paintings and books. The Maya also had a complex calendar, which was based on a base-20 numbering system.
Ancient Maya maths is not fully understood, but it is possible that the Maya used a measurement system that is different from the one used by the rest of the world. This may have influenced the development of indigenous maths. Some have suggested that the Maya used body parts as units.
While there is some evidence that the Maya had a sophisticated system of numbers, there is no solid proof that they developed a logical thinking scheme. Nevertheless, some teachers are arguing that the Maya method has a positive impact on the development of their students. Especially for children who are still learning to count, the system is a good way to make abstract mathematical concepts tangible.
Guillermina Perez has been teaching Maya maths to her students for the last two years at the Escuela Modelo in Merida, Yucatan. She has been surprised by how well her students grasp the concepts.