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The Maya used a numeration system, based on the number 20, which included the concept of zero.  The system was based on dots and bars, where one dot represented one and a bar represented five.  This bar-dot system, similar to the one used today by computers (1 and 0) is called a binary system.  Using these in different positions the Maya were able to make complex calculations, including certain astronomical operations, which they computed with great precision.

      The ancient Maya were mathematical geniuses, a gift they often used, that had formidable uses… mostly for their religious purposes and to keep track of time, which they perhaps thought of as sacred itself. The Maya devised calendars of great precision.  Mathematics also had a number of other worthwhile applications including engineering and design.  The Maya’s hydraulic engineering feat includes the construction of large water reservoirs that could hold up several million gallons of water, such as the ones in Tikal.  (You may find further information on the reservoirs’ capacity on the Hydrology Section.)  The construction of these artificial lakes, filled by water collected in the plazas and temples and moved through the city to the reservoirs by gravity, also required the ability to work with complex mathematical calculations.

      The astounding scientific discoveries made by Maya astronomers included their knowledge of different constellations and the calculation of Venus’ precise orbit around the sun.

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