Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Instituto de Fisica (MEXICO)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN10 Proceedings
Publication year: 2010
Pages: 1385-1394
ISBN: 978-84-613-9386-2
ISSN: 2340-1117
Conference name: 2nd International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 5-7 July, 2010
Location: Barcelona, Spain
It is currently accepted that, around 600 B.C. the Mayan civilization developed for the first time the mathematical abstraction of zero. To them zero, had a cosmic meaning also. They developed the zero six hundred years before the ancient cultures of India.
The Mayan civilization is also known for its outstanding achievements in astronomy, architecture, medicine and agriculture. Today it is considered one of the most important pre-Columbian cultures of America. They developed a vigesimal numerical system (base of 20) with very advanced features such as the positional system with zero as a place marker. They used only three symbols to construct a method for all the arithmetic operations. This system was so powerful that it enabled them to make predictions, with astonishing precision, of astronomical events and to calculate a calendar which has a larger precision than the Gregorian calendar.
They used a positional system of numeration similar to the one we use today. This means that each sign has a value depending on the position that it occupies in the representation of the number. The numbers are set in a vertical position to represent powers of twenty (running from bottom up). They used only dots, bars and zero to represent numbers. Zero was represented with different symbols depending on the importance of the document. The most common one was an empty seashell.
There are large advantages in using dots, bars and seashells to perform mathematical operations. The resulting method does not require tables of any kind. It is a wonderful procedure that is dynamic and ludic. It is an excellent tool for teaching since it gives intuitive knowledge of basic algorithms.
I describe the Mayan system and my transformation to our decimal numerical system of the fundamental arithmetic operations, to be used as an educational proposal in mathematics.
Mathematics, mayan matematics, base 10.