Maya number font

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Mayan numerals in dot-dash notation

The Maya digits , the Maya number system , was used to indicate some very large numbers for calendar information and calculations. The method of counting was not based on the decimal system (system of ten) that we are familiar with , but, as in almost all Mesoamerican cultures, on the vigesimal system ( system of twenty).


It is believed that the reason for the vigesimal system was that both ten fingers and ten toes were used to count. This was divided into four blocks of five digits each , which corresponds to the distribution of five fingers or toes on the hands and feet.

In order to be able to indicate a calendar date in an inscription, the Maya used two different systems to represent the 20 days of a "month". In the dot-dash system, dots (with the value 1) and dashes (with the value 5) were used for the digits 1 to 19. The lines were always parallel to each other in a group, as were the dots.

Sometimes digits were represented by head characters, and rarely by full body characters, which represented different gods. There were separate head characters for the numbers 1 to 12, with 10 taking a special position, since the head is a skull here - the god of death. By combining the head characters for 3 to 9 with the fleshless lower jaw of 10, the characters for the numbers 13 to 19 resulted. In the Mayan thought, a number had an influence on the fate of people through the god assigned to it and his properties.

This played an important role in the Mayan ritual or divination calendar. This consisted of two combined cycles of the consecutive digits 1 to 13 and 20 different daily hieroglyphs arranged in a fixed order . The next digit and the next day symbol from the respective cycle were assigned to the following day, so that 260 different combinations resulted. The 365-day calendar for the solar year, on the other hand, had 18 "months" of 20 days each and at the end of the day had five ominous days. Here the days of a “month” were numbered from 0 to 19 and the five ominous days from 0 to 4. The "months" and the period of the ominous days of a year were represented by 19 different hieroglyphics. In this calendar, the symbol of a conch shell or an empty snail shell or in the dotted line system was used as a space for the first day of the month Head sign system a head whose lower jaw has been covered by a human hand.

The Maya used only positive integers. For calculations, a system of additions and subtractions was used, similar to our current computing system.

Place value system

Examples (for calendar dates)
144000s Maya 7.svg
7200s Maya 8.svg Maya 10.svg
360s Maya 1.svg Maya 12.svg Maya 15.svg Maya 3.svg
20s Maya 1.svg Maya 1.svg Maya 16.svg Maya 13.svg 0 maia.svg
1 series Maya 12.svg Maya 9.svg Maya 5th svg Maya 4.svg Maya 6.svg
number 32 389 4645 63264 1081086

Higher numbers (over 19) were expressed in a place value system , with the individual digits having the following values: 1, 20, 400, 8000, 160000 and further 20 times the previous digit. For example, 32 was written as a single point over two points with two lines. The first point means twenty or "1 × 20"; then the two points and two lines are added, so twelve; everything together gives: (1 × 20) + 12 = 32.

When displaying calendar data, for which the system was mainly used, the second digit only goes from 0 to 17 , all other digits are counted normally from 0 to 19. Due to this irregularity, the third digit has a value of only 360, which represents an approximation of the length of the solar year in days.

The numerals in the colonial era were initially preserved for posterity through the records of the Spanish bishop Diego de Landa , who mentioned the numerals in his report Relación de las cosas de Yucatán ("Report on the events in Yucatán"), as well as through those in Mayathan authored Chilam Balam books. Most of the knowledge about the meaning of the numerals for mathematics and astronomy of the Maya is due to the head of the Royal Library in Dresden , Ernst Förstemann , who analyzed the Dresden Mayan Code in his library .


The system of lines and dots and the place value system was probably developed in the culture of Monte Albán and used by the Olmecs , among others . Without a ranking system, it also occurs in Zapotecs , in Xochicalco , Cacaxtla and other places in the Mexican highlands.

Numerals as part of the name

Numerals are easy to recognize on steles or in connection with inscriptions; However, one cannot always assume that a date ( long count ) is meant, because numerals can also be part of a ruler's name - the most famous of them is the ruler 18 rabbits (ruled 695-738) of Copán .

See also

Individual evidence

  1. "Maya Mathematics" by michielb (engl.)
  2. ^ Ernst Förstemann : Commentary on the Mayan manuscript of the Royal Public Library in Dresden. Bertling, Berlin 1901.


Web links

Commons : Number representation of the Maya  - collection of images, videos and audio files