Articles

Aztec Arithmetic: Positional Notation and Area Calculation

Science  31 Oct 1980:
Vol. 210, Issue 4469, pp. 499-505
DOI: 10.1126/science.210.4469.499

Abstract

Texcocan-Aztec peoples in the Valley of Mexico used both picture symbols and lines and dots for numerical notation. Decipherment and analysis of mid-16th-century native pictorial land documents from the Texcocan region indicate that the line-and-dot system incorporated a symbol for zero and used position to ascribe values. Positional line-and-dot notation was used to record areas of agricultural fields, and analysis of the documentary data suggests that areas were calculated arithmetically. These findings demonstrate that neither positional notation nor the zero were unique to the Maya area, and they imply an equally sophisticated mathematical development among the Aztecs.