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Mathematical Treasure: Maya Numeration in Dresden Codex

Author(s): 
Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)

The Dresden Codex, a Maya manuscript created during the first half of the 13th century, provides one of the few existing examples of the Maya numeration system. The manuscript is a divination almanac compiled to assist in ritual astronomical sightings. As a modified base 20, positional number system, the Maya system has digits 1 – 19. On the pages shown below, the digit 13, consisting of three dots sitting above two horizontal bars, appears often. Each horizontal bar is 5 and each dot 1, making 2 x 5 + 3 x 1 = 13.

Although the Dresden Codex is sometimes referred to as the Codex Mexicanus (Mexican Book), there are other manuscripts designated by this name.

The complete codex can viewed via the World Digital Library. The Dresden Codex itself resides at Saxon State and University Library, Dresden, Germany.

Index to Mathematical Treasures

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasure: Maya Numeration in Dresden Codex," Convergence (July 2017)

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