The science of the Maya: mathematics, astronomy and medicine –

We wanted to make a article dedicated exclusively to Science that managed to develop a culture, whose evolution remained independent of any other influence, since the existence was unknown not only of this Mayan civilization, but of the entire continent. the Mayans, a civilization capable of prospering and developing amazing skills and knowledge, perhaps this is the reason why they have been considered “the Greeks of pre-Hispanic America”. The mathematical, scientific, astronomical and medical contributions, continues to impress and surprise us, let’s start by discovering what was the Science of the Mayans.

The Science of the Mayans | Science Fields

Of the 4 most important American cultures, Mayans, Aztecs, Incas and Chiboas, the Mayan culture It was the most extensive in time, as well as being the most important culture for its advanced knowledge in different sciences, such as art, architecture, crafts, astronomy, etc. It was the only culture capable of developing a based writing system glyphs (engraved, written or painted sign of images)the only developed system in the entire American continent.

The Science of the Maya – Fields of Science | Astronomy and Mathematics

Using mathematics to get a three-dimensional view of all things is a Mayan creation. Unfortunately we have not yet been able to reveal all the mysteries that Mayan mathematics encloses. The mathematical system has been universally recognized as such an exact and extraordinary creation that it is still used today.

We cannot talk about mathematics and ignore astronomy, since to understand the Mayan Calendar, it bases its calculations on mathematical operations. We do not know if their system allowed them to carry out more complex mathematical operations, or even what type of signs they used to carry out the operations.

According to the missionary Diego de Landa, “It is known that they counted from 5 to 5 until they reached the number 0, then from 20 to 20 until they reached the number 100, then from 100 to 100 until they reached 400, and so on until they could reach infinity.”

The system used by the Mayans was twentieth, which means that It is organized in units of 20 elements. The number system was formed from 3 symbols.

Zero was represented by a shell, a dot had a value of 1 and a line had a value of 5, as we can see in the image above simply by combining these symbols, using the vertical and horizontal positions cumulatively, representing 20 by 20.

That its numbering is based on a vigesimal system had a reason. The months for the Mayans were 20 days, also 20 is the number of fingers that the human being has and with such a classic conception of man as the measure of all things, we have the explanation of why.

It is a system in which empowerment, thus giving it that three-dimensional character of things. In the previous image we can see a representation of the numbers 0-100.

Thanks to the refinement of an exact calendrical systemboth in the measurement of the solar and lunar cycle, the Mayans reached what can be considered the highest degree of astronomical and scientific development in all of pre-Columbian America.

To understand the trajectory of the stars, the priests sat each day on top of the temple and gazed for a long time at the horizon. With this method, and using a simple stick perpendicular to the ground, they were able to define the pitch of the Sun by the zenith, because when the star was at its highest point, the stick did not cast a shadow.

That the Sun is exactly above our heads is an exceptional case that only occurs at certain times of the year, and depending on the area. for the peninsula Yucatan the event occurs twice: between May 15/16 and between July 25/26. Due to its strong presence, the zenith passage It was of great interest to the ancient Mayans of the peninsula, and marked determining dates.

This is not a minor fact: the calendar in ancient civilizations it fixed the activities of society, based on agriculture and the seasons of the year. The daily life of the entire population depended on it. Specifically, the Mayans established a solar cycle of 365 daysand another lunar, of 295 days, which does not constitute a great difference with the Gregorian calendar.

Its accuracy is based on a series of continuous days starting from a precise starting date (day zero): August 12th from 3113 BC mathematics it was an important tool for the celandaric system. in their calendars, numerical notations were written by mixing numbers with glyphs.

The Science of the Maya – Fields of Science | The Study of the Heavens

But the genius of Mayan mathematics, in addition to the simplicity of its twentieth number systemresided in the creation of the zeroa concept that for several centuries was unknown to other cultures and that, in the area of ​​exact sciences, placed Mayan scientists in the intellectual forefront of the pre-Hispanic world.

Secondly, the invention of the Mayan calendar would not have been possible without the study of the heavens. The priestly elite group, made up of true astronomers who watched the sky with nothing but their eyes.

Venus It was one of the most important stars for the Mayans, and many of the wars and sacrifices of the Postclassic period depended on the position of this planet. The Mayans also venerated what we call Milky Wayknown to them as the World Treeand represented by a great flowering tree, the ceiba, from which all the manifestation of life came (in a metaphor not very different from the “milk path” of the Greeks).

But the attention of the Mayan astronomers returned again and again to the Sun, prompting them to trace the star’s path across the sky. In Mayan art, the path of the Sun along the elliptical is marked in the constellations of fixed stars as a Snake of Two Heads.

And it is today that, in the ruins of Chichen Itzait can still be perfectly seen, during the twilight of the equinox, how an enormous and amazing serpent of light descends from the temple to bless the fertile land and announce a new cycle.

Mayan knowledge:

  • They knew the Milky Way, represented by a crocodile or celestial dragon.
  • They knew the system heliocentric and elliptical.
  • they also had extensive knowledge of the constellations, being represented in the form of animals and symbols, being the only coincidence with our representation, the constellation of Scorpio.
  • They knew the orbital periods of Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Saturn and the others of the stars.
  • knew pole starcalled Xaman Ek and the Pleiades or Tzab.
  • Venus for the Mayans had a special importance, as stated in the codices and in the studied stelae.
  • They created instruments to observe the sky and predict eclipses that have not reached us.
  • They designed calendars of amazing precision.
  • They were aware of the exact value of the planetary orbits, being able to correct the solar calendar, adjusting it periodically, according to the duration of the movements of the stars, which make it one ten-thousandth of a day more accurate than the currently used Gregorian calendar.

The Science of the Maya – Fields of Science | Mayan Divination

In a time where beliefs explained to all the facts that happened in natureThe Mayans went one step further. The movements of the Sun and the Moon helped to develop the calendars, which at that time covered time in its entirety: past, present and future.

the movements of the sky were performed by priests through divination in the advent of events, as well as complete prophecies. The Mayan priests not only obeyed the religious limits of the rituals, but they were also knowledgeable about historical, medical, astronomical and poetic topics.

His role was marked by a series of hierarchical classes divided into sublevels of law between men and gods. Mayan divination was a whole science Y the chilames, Named after a famous pre-Hispanic priest, they used their great knowledge of Astronomy and Astrology to search the sky for man’s answers.

The priests’ prophecies were the result of an exhaustive study of the stars, the gods and the books, as demonstrated in the Chilam Balam books. The books of the Chilam Balam are a set of manuscripts Made in the 17th and 18th centuries AD, in the Yucatan region, its content covers all the cultural stages through which the Mayan culture of Yucatan went through.

They were volumes that for the Mayans could be like an encyclopedia “Larousse” with the most fundamental advances and facts of its population. Although only kept 8 books, It is known that there were a total of 18 books, each of them named after the city where they were made, like the book of Chumayel. Some books narrate events from the 5th century AD, and even reach the arrival of the Spaniards in the region.

The Science of the Maya – Fields of Science | Writing system

The Mayan writing system is made through logograms and syllabic glyphs, very similar to the type of oriental writing. It was stamped on stelae and codices created with whitewashed tree bark.

The inscriptions that have been able to reach our days are written in stone. It was not until the XVIII-XIX century, when they were discovered by European explorers, giving them the title of hieroglyphics, although they really have nothing to do with it. Due to their complicated location, they went unnoticed by the conquerors.

There were a series of individual symbols, called glyphs, these could represent a morpheme or a whole syllable. The Mayans grouped the writing in blocks of columns, the glyphs were arranged from top to bottom and from right to left, each block corresponding to a verb.

The Science of the Mayans | Scientific Contributions

The Mayan people not only bequeathed their impressive precision in the study of the heavens and the elaboration of the annual calendar. They also made medical studies and ancient predictions that ended up proving them right.

As we have already mentioned left us great scientific contributions, many of them in use today and of impressive accuracy. Contributions such as the ones we are going to see below.

  • Creation of Number Zero

developed the concept of the number 0 in the 1st century BC. c. or at least it is the first use of which there is documentation of the appearance of zero in the American Continent.

They were able to describe the positioning of the Sun, the Moon and Mars, also knowing the phases of the Moon and its duration. They were able to predict solar eclipses, knowing how to understand the equinoxes and solstices. As a curious fact, they were able to predict the total eclipse of the sun that occurred on August 1999.

the mayans calculated the complete rotation of the earth around the…