The Mayans developed a number system that was many centuries ahead of anyone else in terms of their ability to express large numbers. They invented the number zero, and using a symbol for zero and a system of dots for the numbers 1-4 and bars representing a value of 5, it was possible for them to express astronomically large numbers.   The Maya number system is similar to ours but instead of the decimal system we have today, the Maya used the vigesimal system for their calculations - a system based on base 20 mathematics rather than base 10. This means that instead of the 1, 10, 100, 1,000 and 10,000 of our mathematical system, the Maya used 1, 20, 400, 8000 and 160,000.
The Mayan place values are vertical, whereas ours are horizontal. For instance, we would write the number 29 horizontally -- the number two, then the number nine to the right of it. The Mayans, however, would write 29 vertical­ly -- their symbol for nine (a bar representing five units with four dots over it) would be on the bottom, and the symbol for 20 (a dot on the line above) would be directly over it.

You can see your Number as it would be written in Mayan
Math (Base 20) in seconds. Any number from 1 to 3,199,999 !

~ Please Enter a whole number - the Maya did not use fractions ~

Left Click inside the box to type in your Number
[ Any number from 1 to 3,199,999 ]


OR - You can see the Mayan Number for the total

number of days from the start of the current Epoch on
Aug 11, 3113 B.C, until your Birthday or any date you choose !

~ How many days into the Mayan Epoch were you born ? ~
[ Please choose a Month, Day and enter a Year ]


Left Click inside the box to type in your Number
Please enter a year from 1 to 9999    



How would you write the Year 2012 in Mayan Math ? Here is an example:

An example of maya mathematics and counting

The Maya of Central America understood these concepts of zero and place notation hundreds of years before its earliest known use in India and medieval Islam. But why would the Maya need to develop a system capable of dealing with such large numbers? The Mayan astronomers created their own base twenty number system to keep track of long periods of time and the great cycles of the solar system.  They used a system of bar and dot as "shorthand" for counting. A dot stood for one and a bar stood for five. A symbol that resembles a clam shell was the zero place-holder. It was very easy to add and subtract using this number system, and they did not use fractions. The position of the glyph represents a multiple of twenty. The Maya normally wrote numbers vertically, with the units at the bottom. Above the units were the twenties, above the twenties, the four hundreds (20 x 20), and above the four hundreds, the eight thousands (20 x 20 x 20). The numbers could also be written from right to left, when this better suited the subject.

The Maya used the following names for their powers of twenty: kal (20), bak (400), pic (8,000), calab (160,000), kinchil (3,200,000) and alau (64,000,000).

Did the Mayans use readily available items to help count ?
Yes, and here is an example:

How the Mayans used everyday items as symbols for numbers

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