The Voice of the Maya: Numeric System 101

The ancient Maya people are famous for their culture, art, architecture, advanced astronomical and calendar systems, medicine and engineering. The Maya, who occupied Central America and Mexico between 1800 B.C. and the arrival of the Spanish in 1500 A.C., are thought to be the descendants of even older cultures dating back to 10,000 B.C. Throughout the years, the Maya fully developed a written language, the most complex and accurate calendar to date, surgery without incisions, sustainable buildings and even invented the zero on this side of the world.

Numeric System 101 is the first of many blogs to come in The Voice of the Maya series. In the series, I will attempt to showcase my roots and present the world with an in depth insight into the Maya. Numeric System 101 is simply an introduction to the Maya numbers.

The ancient Maya had a vigesimal number system, that is, with base 20. That means that instead of counting to 9 before they started to repeat their digits, they instead counted to 19 and then started repeating their digits. Their numbers are based on a stylized sea shell for zero/twenty, a dot for one, and a bar for five. They are arranged as follows:


Maya Digits

Maya Digits

As you can imagine, adding Maya numerals is very easy. For example, 0+0 = 00 (1+1=2), and |+| = || (5+5=10). Subtraction works the same way: ||-|=| (10-5=5).

For more information, see the Maya Numerals article on Wikipedia.

About Gabriel Mongefranco

Gabriel Mongefranco is your software developer for all things data: extraction, integration, analytics and security. He is also a blogger, a poet, a proud father and a faithful Christian. He is always eager to contract with faith-based nonprofits! Learn more.