Maya numerals

The Mayan numerals, ie the number system of the Maya, was used to specify some very big numbers for calendrical and calculations. The counting not was based on the decimal system we are familiar with ( the decimal system ), but, as in almost all Mesoamerican cultures, on the vigesimal ( Zwanziger system ).

Number of characters

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

To specify a kalendarisches date in an inscription, the Maya used two different systems to represent the 20 days of a " month". For the numbers 1 to 19 points were the dot-dash system ( with the value 1 ), and underscores ( with the value 5 ) is used. The bars were always parallel to one another in a group, as well as the points.

Sometimes numbers were, headers rarely reproduced pictorially by whole-body characters by which represented different gods. There were own head characters for the numbers 1 to 12, wherein the 10 occupies a special position, since the head is a skull - the god of death. By combining the head character for 3-9 with the fleshless lower jaw of 10, thus the characters revealed for the numbers 13 to 19 in the thinking of the Maya had a number. Due to its associated God and its properties influence on the fate of people

Especially when ritual or divination calendar of the Mayas played one important role. This consisted of both combined cycles of sequential numbers 1 to 13 and 20 different colors, arranged in a fixed order days hieroglyphs. The next number and the next day signs from the respective cycle was assigned to the following day, so that gave 260 different combinations. In contrast, the 365 -day calendar for the solar year had 18 " months " to 20 days each, and ominous at the end of five days. Here are the days of a " month " from 0 to 19 and the five baneful days 0-4 were numbered. The " months " and the period of the baneful days in a year was set by 19 different hieroglyphs dar. In this calendar was used for the first day of the month as a space in dot and dash system the symbol of a conch shell or an empty snail shell or in the head sign system a head whose lower jaw was obscured by a human hand.

The Maya used exclusively positive integers. For calculations we used a system of addition and subtraction, similar to our current computing system.

Place value system

Higher numbers ( over 19 ) were expressed in a place value system, where the individual points had the following values ​​: 1, 20, 400, 8000, 160000 and further each twenty times the previous digit. For example, 32 was written as a single dot on two points with two lines. The first point means twenty or "1 × 20". These two points, two lines are added, so the Twelve, all together, for: (1 × 20) 12 = 32

In the representation of calendar data, for which the system was mainly used, but the second point is only from 0-17, all other points are normally numbered from 0-19. Due to this irregularity the third digit has a value of only 360, and thus represents an approximation of the length of the solar year in days

The posterity are the number of characters in the colonial period initially preserved by the records of the Spanish bishop Diego de Landa ( "Report on the events in Yucatán " ) mentioned in his Relación de las cosas de Yucatán report the numbers, as well as by the in Mayathan Chilam Balam authored books. Most evidence on the importance of digits for mathematics and astronomy of the Maya are due to the Head of the Royal Library in Dresden, Ernst Förstemann, who analyzed the present in his library Dresden Maya Code.


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

Number of characters as part of their name

Numerals are easy to spot on steles or related inscriptions; however, one can not always assume that the result is the date ( Long Count ) is meant for number characters can be part of a ruler name - the most famous among them is the ruler 18- Rabbit ( r. 695-738 ) of Copán.