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Mathematics – The Mayan Civilization

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The Preclassic Maya (or their Olmec predecessors) independently developed the concept of zero around 36 BC (This is the first documented use of zero as we know it today, although the Babylonians had earlier developed a placeholder 0 that was only used among other digits), meaning they seem to have been using the concept of zero centuries before the Old World, and inscriptions show them at times working with sums up to hundreds of millions and dates so extensive that it took several lines to represent them.

They made extremely precise astronomical observations, and their diagrams of the movements of the moon and planets are equal to or superior to those of any other civilization working with the naked eye.

Similarly, like other Mesoamerican civilizations, the Maya discovered an exact measure of the duration of the solar year, which was much more accurate than the one used in Europe with the Gregorian calendar. However, they did not use this model of duration in their calendar.

Instead, the Maya calendar was based on a year of exact duration of 365 days, which means the calendar has an error of one day every four years. In comparison, the Julian calendar used in Europe from Roman times until the 16th century accumulated an error of one day every 128 years. The modern Gregorian calendar accumulates an error of one day every 3,257 years, approximately.

Return to the main article The Maya Civilization

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