The Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya


Maya numbers were written in a bar-and-dot system: bars had a value of 5 and dots 1. The counting system was based on 20, rather than the 10-based decimal system we use today. A great achievement of this counting system was its use of a placeholder, or "zero."

image: Example of Maya Numbering, 0-19

For larger numbers, they used place notation just as we do, except that Maya numbers could be written horizontally
or vertically, with values increasing from right to left or from
bottom to top.

image: Example of Large Numbers

The Maya wrote 22 as

image: twenty-two

(that's one 20 + 2 ones)

and wrote 49 as

image: Forty-Nine

(that's two 20s + 9 ones)

Can you guess the next one?

What would 86 be written as

image: Maya Numbers Game

(roll over the center to get the answer)

Maya Number Game

Now that you know the system, can you find the numbers on the ballcourt marker?

Type the number you think is being shown in the box of the image below and click on the round dot at the bottom of the box to see if you are correct.