# #7: Mayan Math

The Mayans were a classical civilization of Mesoamerica.  Originating in the Yucatan around 2600 B.C.E., they rose to prominence around A.D.E. 250 in present-day southern Mexico, Guatemala, western Honduras, El Salvador, and northern Belize.

1. Set up your math mini spark recording page: #7: Mayan Math

2. Mayan Math was the most sophisticated number system ever developed in the Americas.  Astronomers and architects used Mayan Math, but it was also simple enough to be used by uneducated traders and farmers.  Where we use ten different symbols to represent numbers (1, 2, 3, 4 , 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0), the Mayans used only three: a dot for a one, a bar for five, and a symbol (usually a shell) for zero. (The Maya were the first civilization to discover and understand the concept of zero.)  The chart below shows the Mayan numbers 1 – 19. Draw this chart on your recording page or use this online tool to practice making the numbers 1-19.

3.  We use a decimal system, based on the number ten, but the Mayans used a vigesimal system, based on the number twenty. So, where we learn to count on our fingers, Mayan children counted on their fingers and toes. In fact, the number twenty was very important to the Mayans, so much so that the words for “human being” and “twenty” share the same root in most Mayan languages.  Watch a video about base 20 and how it is used. Record important details on your recording sheet.

4. The Mayans wrote their numbers from top to bottom rather than from left to right, but apart from that, their system was not so different from ours. For example, to write the number 34, we place a three in the tens column and a four in the ones column. The Maya put a one in the twenties column and a fourteen in the ones column.

Practice making larger numbers at Round 2 at Mayan Math Games. Then you will move to Round 3 at Mayan Math Games where you make numbers in the base 20 system.   If you think you can move to round 3 without starting in round 2 that is ok. Add a note to your recording page about what you learned.

5. Adding in the Mayan system is simply a matter of juggling the dots and bars. To calculate 36 + 13, for example, you start by adding the units (i.e., 16 + 13). This gives you 29, so you leave 9 in the ones column and carry the 20 up, giving you a grand total of 2 twenties and 9 ones = 49.

Pretty smart, right? Especially, when you consider that the Ancient Egyptians never cracked the concept of zero and that complex calculations with Roman numerals were way too complicated for ordinary Romans. Practice adding in Round 4 at Mayan Math Games.

6.  Optional: If you would like to try subtraction go to Round 5 at Mayan Math Games.

6. Share your math mini spark recording page with your teacher/EY coordinator.