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Maya Calendar Conversions

Author(s): 
Ximena Catepillan (Millersville University of Pennsylvania) and Waclaw Szymanski (West Chester University of Pennsylvania)

Since 1993, Millersville University of Pennsylvania has offered the 3-credit course Mathematics in Non-European Cultures (MATH 102). The course is a survey of mathematical ideas developed by non-European cultures including, but not limited to, those of Africans, Asians, and Native North, Central and South Americans.

Every summer since 2006, Dr. Ximena Catepillan has offered a special session of the course that includes a week-long trip to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. She teaches the first part, “A Survey of Mathematical Ideas Developed by non-European Cultures,” at Millersville University for one week, and she teaches the second part, “A study of Ancient Maya History, Culture, and Mathematics,” on the Yucatan Peninsula, together with archaeologists from the Maya Exploration Center.

MATH 102 is a general education course designed for students not majoring in mathematics and science. The students who take this course typically major in Art, Anthropology, History, Music, Social Work, and Sociology, among others. During the summer, students from the course visit pyramids, temples, and ruins at the Maya centers of Chichen Itza , Coba, and Ek Balam while working on the mathematics and science of the Mesoamerican civilization. One of the mathematical techniques students learn during the trip is Maya calendar conversion of dates found on the different ancient monuments. We describe here some of the methods students use for calendar conversion during the course.

In this article, we first describe the Maya calendars. Then we give two examples of calendar conversions. Both are needed to fully understand the method. Finally, we propose some exercises and suggest how to use the material in the classroom.

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