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Essay: Mayan Mathematics, Calendar, Astronomy and Maya Today

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  • Published: 22 September 2015*
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The mathematical system of the Mayan Civilization was considered the most sophisticated system in the continent of America. The most noteworthy discovery of the Mayans is their understanding of the concept of zero. The Mayans used three simple symbols representing different values in Mathematics to help the uneducated easily understand numbers and other concepts of Math. These three symbols are a dot for one, a bar for five, and a shell for zero.
Rather than the decimal system, the Mayans used the vigesimal system, a system based on 20 in their calculations. Also, instead of the usual way of writing numbers horizontally, the Mayans write their numbers from bottom to top. Since the symbols are simple, it was also easy for the people to add and subtract. To add, they simply put the numbers together.
For example:
+ =
10 + 2 = 12
(Mathematics, n.d.)
This chart shows the numbers with their corresponding representation in Mayan Mathematics. Retrieved from http://www.hanksville.org/yucatan/mayamath.html
The image on the left is an example to help represent the concept of the vigesimal system. Retrieved from http://www.hanksville.org/yucatan/mayamath.html
Mayan Calendar
The Mayans have two calendars. These are the tzolkin, the 260-day Sacred Round and haab, the 365-day Vague Year which coincide every 52 years. This period where the two calendars coincide is called the ‘bundle.’ To distinguish the difference of these two calendars, uses of each will be stated. The 260-day calendar which is composed of two smaller cycles mainly focuses on the important dates related to the Mayan gods and to the Mayans. It also helps the Mayans to predict the future through omens, to name individuals, to decide on the dates for marriages and other significant decisions made by humans. On the other hand, the 365-day Vague Year which is composed of 18 months with 20 days each and a 5-day unlucky period is mostly concerned with the seasons of the year. The Mayans feared the coinciding of the two calendars since it was believed to be the end of the world if the people were not able to satisfy the expectations of their gods. However, these two calendars were found to be inadequate, thus, devising the Long Count. The Long Count follows the units of time namely, kin for one day, uinal for one month with 20 kins or days, tun for one year with 360 kins or days or 18 uinals or months, katun for 20 tuns or years, baktun for 20 katuns and other terms for larger units of time. These calendars did not only help the Mayans to track dates and time but also to associate dates with historical and significant dates relating to their gods and the Mayans. (The Maya Calendar, n.d.)
Mayan Astronomy
The Mayans specifically the astronomer-priests used and invented devices such as fork sticks and observatories to keep track of the movements of the celestial body. This helped the Mayans to invent calendars and keep records of the movement of the sun, moon, stars and planets. Their knowledge of the celestial bodies also aided them in constructing ceremonial buildings as a sign of veneration for their gods by building infrastructures lined with compass directions. These records of time along with celestial movements are not only for mere knowledge with regards to science but are also believed to be a track of the activities of their gods. (Astronomy, n.d.)
The Maya Today
There are still about six million Mayans in the North of Peru. They are considered the largest group of indigenous people present in the country of Peru. Despite the advancement of technology and influences of newly learned ideas, the Mayans have greatly succeeded in preserving their beliefs and culture which is greatly seen to be a result of their confinement to unbroken and near areas. Up to now, the Mayans still used their ancient calendars to aid them in their everyday lives with the help of shaman priests. With a strong foundation of beliefs and identity, the Mayans continue to prosper in their land and develop their communities. They have continuously succeeded in maintaining their identity as Mayans. (The Maya Today, n.d.)
Work Cited
Astronomy.(n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.civilization.ca/cmc/exhibitions/civil/maya/mmc07eng.shtml
Mathematics. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.civilization.ca/cmc/exhibitions/civil/maya/mmc05eng.shtml
Mayan Math. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.hanksville.org/yucatan/mayamath.html
The Maya Calendar. (n.d.).Retrieved from http://www.civilization.ca/cmc/exhibitions/civil/maya/mmc06eng.shtml
The Maya Today. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.civilization.ca/cmc/exhibitions/civil/maya/mmc08eng.shtml

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