Friday, April 04, 2008

Aztecs: Natural Born Mathematicians

If you ask the average person what they know about the Aztecs, they'll probably respond to your question with a question of their own, "Like, sacrafices? Where they pull beating hearts out of people's chests?"

Sure. Brutality was a part of the ancient world. But the Aztecs were accomplished in other areas like
architecture, agriculture, engineering and astronomy. Now, it appears as though mathematics can be added to the list.

According to
a report at Reuters, "the ancient Aztecs maintained an arithmetic system that was far more complex than previously understood."

The Aztec system included more "numbers" than we have, according to
an article at Scientific American. Instead of whole numbers, which we're used to, they had numerical concepts researchers call "monads" representing fractions. Said one researcher, "We don't like to call them fractions, though, because they were considered as unitary entities like inches, seconds or minutes."

These "extra units" are represented with hieroglyphics resembling arrows, hearts, hands, bones and arms. Researchers suggest these symbols had a role in what the numbers represent. For example, the arrow would be the distance from the shoulder to the hand, "like an archer with a taut bow." The heart might represent the distance from the middle of the chest to the hand.

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.