Aztec Math

By Ali Brazzoni

Aztecs Discovered

The Aztecs were discovered when Christopher Columbus discovered America. They had ruled central Mexico several hundred years before the Spanish came in 1519. When they had ruled they had established a base in Tenochtitlan in 1325. When they were discovered, at the time, they were known as the Aztecs of Mexico. But they had called themselves Mexica. Soon they became more dominant over their region, more people coming. They soon had one big diverse culture, made of many sub-cultures.

Basics of Aztec Math

As for the math of the Aztecs, unlike us, they had a base of 20. For zero, the Aztecs were one of the few groups back then who even had a knowledge or concept of zero and it was represented by a shell. One dot, or bullet point, was one, with the occasional finger representation. That went on for 2, 3, and 4. At 5 you could also do five dots, but they had a bar to represent 5. Then 6, 7, 8, and 9 could be that many dots or a bar and the remaining amount would be dots. Next, 10 could be two bars, ten dots, or a rhombus, which was the official symbol. For 20, it was represented as a flag figure. Now for the hundreds. For each hundred, there would be a feather with barbs. For one hundred, there would be a blank feather and on the right side 5 barbs, each representing 20. Then for 200, 5 more barbs on the left side, and so on, each going up one hundred until 400. Then, there is no given in between. It goes right to 8,000, with a tiki like symbol.

Real Life Application

A study done in a university figured out how they estimated land areas with one of their old documents, Codex Vergara. It was made by the Aztecs to measure the surface of a field or a land area. When the document was analyzed, they revealed a "very practical kind of record keeping". Some areas they would figure out by doing what we do and multiplying length by width. If measurements didn't match up though, they would use a somewhat standard unit of measurement, 2.5 meters, to stand for a "land rod". But, the Aztecs with all their symbols added more symbols to the measurements. The common symbols were hearts, hands, bones, and arrows. These symbols were found to be used for the remaining parts of lots that were under one rod, which is again 2.5 meters.

Aztec Calendar

The Aztec's most famous aspect of technology is their calendars. The Aztecs used two calendars, Tonalpohualli and Xiuhpohualli. The word Tonalpohualli translates to day count and the Aztecs used this for tracking religious ceremonies and festivals. It had 260 days, which is 105 off from our year now, and used 21 day signs and 13 day signs. This calendar was though to be sacred because it was formed by dividing time equally among the gods. The Aztecs though this made the gods happy and kept the universe in balance.
As for the Xiuhpohualli, that translates to solar year. The Aztecs used this calendar to track time. This calendar was more like our calendar we use today, but still very different. Like our calendar, they used 365 days. But unlike our calendar, their year was divided up into 18 months and 20 days. Those 5 days that were left over were the days the Aztecs considered unlucky days.

The Importance

Overall, the Aztecs made many important breakthroughs and advances that we still feel the effects of through today. For example, their calendar. They predicted the world was going to end in 2012. Needless to say it didn't. Some other things they had found though were seasonal changes, for when they would plant and harvest new crop, a highly advanced number system similar to ours, they were able to figure out where to build cities according to alignments of the star, moon, earth, etc. All these thing are things more people made advancements through and things we still use today. Along with those few things tho they also figured our many other things that have all impacted us today. In the end, what the Aztecs discovered hundreds of years ago, still impact us today, which is why we study them.