Mayan Inventions & Discoveries

Updated November 21, 2016

The Mayans are an ancient civilisation that emerged during 300 B.C. and 250 A.D. in parts of modern-day Mexico, Hondorus and Guatemala. The Mayan people lived as hunters and eventually adopted a system of farming. The civilisation was at its peak from 600 A.D. to 900 A.D. During this time, the civilisation developed a sophisticated system of writing. The Mayans also made advancements in mathematics and developed a functioning calendar system.


Since the Spaniards burnt most of the Mayan books, some of the Mayan history is limited. However, it is known that the Mayan people invented a fully functioning system of writing using pictures to represent sounds. They painted the writing on books made from fig tree bark and also on pottery pieces. According to the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies website, the Mayan words were made using various combinations of nearly 800 different signs. Each sign represented a full syllable. The syllables were combined to create a specific sound. Various signs could be used to represent the same syllable. For example, the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies said there were about five different signs that could represent the single syllable "ba."

Calendar System

The Mayans invented an advanced and accurate calendar system. They first developed a calendar that consisted of 260 days. Each day was given a specific name and a corresponding symbol. Later in their civilisation's development, the Mayans created a calendar that followed the solar year of 365 days. The Mayans gave names and symbols for each specific month in this calendar. There were a total of 18 months, with each month being 20 days. According to the Georgia Perimeter College website, within each calendar year, the Mayans also set aside a five-day period called "Wayet." These five days were considered unlucky and were not given any names.


The Mayan people invented a working number system at a time when the people of Europe were still struggling to use the Roman numeral system. The Mayans had a symbol for zero. They also had a counting system where numbers were able to be represented using only three symbols: a dot, a bar and a symbol for zero. Large numbers were expressed using place values. Historians discovered the Mayans' mathematic advancements in books and also carved on monuments. The Mayan counting system allowed the people to record long periods of time and also to perform simple arithmetic.

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