- Mathematical Notation (from Art Pre-Columbien)
This table compares Mesoamerican mathematical notation with our modern Western system, using a Maya example. Note the use of the zero. The same glyph could be used for zero or 20, because the Mesoamerican counting system was based on the number 20, unlike our system, which is based on 10 (in a base-20 system, 20 "fills" a column, therefore requiring a place holder). Special glyphs were used by the various cultures to represent "20" and its multiples. Each bar represents "5," and each dot represents "1." Mathematics was key to the Mesoamericans' sophisticated knowledge of astronomy; it was needed both for calculating the movements of celestial bodies and for using the calendric counting systems, which were themselves inextricably tied to religion.