The Ancient Maya Concept of Fractions

The word fractions comes from “fractus,” the Latin word for broken. It represents a part of a whole or any number of equal parts of the whole. Broken or fractured from the whole. A common, vulgar, or simple fraction consists of an integer numerator, which is displayed above a line (or before a slash), and a non-zero integer denominator, displayed below (or after) that line. The numerator represents a number of equal parts and the denominator indicates how many of those parts make up a whole. For example, in the…

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Maya Math – The Grid System

Learning Maya mathematics is easy if you use the grid system to count and do your arithmetic. The “Grid System” is basically what it sounds like. You use a system of grids to do your addition and subtraction. The grid system works extremely well in the Maya stacked vigesimal system. This is also a wonderful exercise tool that can be used to teach Maya numbers, adding and subtraction, and help to better to better understand the Maya counting system in general. You start by making a simple grid. You can make…

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Counting the Maya Way – The Finger Method

Simple calculations can be made using your fingers with the Maya vertical vigesimal system without grids, beans, or bars. If we were conducting trade or simply needed to do some simple and quick math, gathering slaves to help count using their fingers and toes is not very convenient.  Plus, what if we were a lower status merchant or priest and didn’t have any slaves to help us count. Making a quick “grid system” on the ground would work, but we’d still have to gather sticks and stones to do the…

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The Ancient Maya understood Value of Zero

The ancient Maya had discovered, understood, and used zero. They usually represented the value of zero or null with the symbol of an ovular shell. The Long Count calendar requires the use of a zero as a place holder within its vigesimal numerical system. There have been many different glyphs that were used as a zero symbol by different scribes for marking Long Count dates. Glyph writing was a respected form of art to the Maya. At Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico, the earliest known use of glyphs being used as…

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Ancient Maya Arithmetic

maya arithmetic

The ancient Maya used a mathematical system that is “vigesimal.” A vigesimal counting system is based on 20 units (0 – 19), instead of the 10 unit (0 – 9) based counting system that we use today called the decimal system. The decimal mathematical system widely used today is believed to have possibly originated by counting the number of fingers that the average person has. Counting with our fingers gives us our ten unit based metric system. It is believed that the Maya possibly began counting with both their fingers…

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The ‘Four Slave’ Example How the Maya count to 8000

Four Slave

The ancient Maya used a mathematical system that is “vigesimal.” A vigesimal counting system is based on 20 units (0 – 19), instead of the 10 unit (0 – 9) based counting system that we use today called the decimal system. The vigesimal counting system used by the ancient Maya made counting high numbers extremely easy, even when one could not count very well – or at all. In the “Four Slave” example, we make the assumption that the ancient-era individual counting is using the fingers and toes of four…

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The Maya Calendar System

The ancient Maya kept track of time differently than how we do today and used a calendar system which had remarkable accuracy and complexity. It was a calendar system that was utilized and expressed in many forms, including pyramid temples which acted as calendars. The Pyramid of Kukulkan at Chichén Itzá in Yucatan, Mexico was built around sometime between the years 550 to 900 AD. The earliest hieroglyphic date discovered at Chichen Itza dates to 832 AD, when the Toltec culture from Tula became politically powerful and dominated the region. The…

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The Wayeb’

The five unnamed days at the end of the Haab’ calendar are called the “Wayeb’,” This period of time was believed to be a very dangerous time to the Maya. It was believed that during the five day period of the Wayeb’, the passageways between the mortal realm and the realm of the underworld opened up. This left no boundaries that prevented the ill-intending spirits and deities from creating havoc and causing disasters to happen. During this time, the Maya had customs they followed and practiced certain rituals to ward…

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The Maya Haab’ Calendar

A very important calendar that the Maya used was called the Haab’. The Haab’ is a secular calendar that has no religious or spiritual basis associated with it.  This calendar simply counts a solar year of 365 days. Unfortunately, this calendar does not account for the extra quarter-day each year it takes the Earth to revolve around the sun. Our modern calendar corrects for this calculation offset by adding an extra day to February every four years, making a ‘Leap Year.’ The Maya didn’t calculate for the orbital offset on…

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The Sacred Tzolkin Calendar of the Maya

The “Tzolkin,” also called the Sacred Almanac or Sacred Round, is a sacred cyclical count calendar which consists of 260 days (called “k’in”) within the ancient Maya system. It is considered by most to be the region’s oldest calendar count. The “Tzolkin” was used to mark the dates for the ceremonies performed on the astronomical new year. In these ceremonies, the priests indicated the days when agricultural plantings and religious ceremonies were to take place within the 260 day cycle. Besides the religious purposes, the calendar was very important for…

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