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“Nik” — The Zero in Vigesimal Maya Mathematics

Presentation #336.03 in the session “Collaboration with Integrity: Partnerships with Indigenous Communities in the Americas and Polynesia”.

Published onJan 11, 2021
“Nik” — The Zero in Vigesimal Maya Mathematics

The Maya zero, as both a philosophical and a mathematical concept, implies the beginning and the end, the absence of quantity, and a bridge between the past and the future. From a philosophical perspective, the zero is understood through a Maya worldview, and from a mathematical perspective, the zero is a well-defined concept and symbol within the Maya vigesimal system. In various expressions—including stone sculpture, painted codices, and decorated pottery, among other media—the Maya zero is represented as a flower, a seed, a human head in profile, or a conch shell. The seed is typically used in arithmetic calculations while the flower appears most often in representations of the Long Count Maya calendar. The oldest representation of the Mesoamerican zero, dating from the year 31 BCE, is found in Stela C in the ancestral Olmec site of Tres Zapotes in Veracruz, Mexico. This presentation will share cultural and calendric connections of the Maya zero, as represented in the written and artistic record as well as the oral tradition of the living cultures of the Maya people in Guatemala.


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