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Reading Maya Hieroglyphs
by Rick Groleau

Read almost any of the Maya's ancient writings and it's clear that numbers played a significant role in their culture—there are few documents that don't contain at least some. As you might expect, the Maya used numbers to specify quantities and distances, just like we do. A people preoccupied with time, they also devised an elaborate way of specifying dates, which allowed them to keep track of events that had happened not only in the past, but those that were currently taking place and those that would happen in the future. They had a standard way of expressing numbers as well as a method that was not so standard: Since they associated some of their deities with certain numbers, the symbols of these deities came to represent numbers.

No one studying Maya hieroglyphs would get very far without being able to read the 19 numbers that form the base of their numbering system. Can you figure out their numbering system?
Rick Groleau is managing editor of NOVA Online.

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