Number Systems – Babylonian and Mayan [Adam Tan]

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Babylonian Number System
As it is with most other number systems, the main purpose of the Babylonian numerals was to count. A base-60 number system proved much easier for calculations, as, previously, each number up to ten had a different symbol. The distinctive features of Babylonian numerals include:

– Only two digits are used

– The value of the digit is determined using the digit itself and the positioning of it

– Number of tens written on the left, number of units on the right

Modern usage of the Babylonian number system can be found in time: sixty seconds in a minute, sixty minutes in an hour, and 360 degrees in a circle.

One big advantage of a base-60 number system is that it is a highly composite number.

Mayan Number System

Once again, this number system is used to count. The distinctive features are:

– Base-20, as the Mayans counted using their fingers AND their toes

– Three different number symbols – zero is a shell, one is a dot and five is a line

– Sets of five (lines) are placed horizontally at the bottom and the ones (dots) are placed above it

Mayan mathematics are used today in our calendar. In Mayan numerals, numbers over nineteen were expressed with a dot representing a multiple of twenty (ie. twenty-three would be expressed with a dot over three dots). The same principal was used with the calendar, however, the upmost dot represented a multiple of eighteen. For the Mayans, there were twenty days in a month and eighteen months in a year, 360 (the five days were considered bad luck).

An advantage of using this number system is that large numbers are easier to express, and simple arithmetic is easily accomplished.



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