Ancient Mayan math making comeback in classrooms of their Yucatan descendants

World Today

Ancient Mayan math making comeback in classrooms of their Yucatan descendants

In Mexico, a form of calculation that made the ancient Mayans such a successful race has been rediscovered by academics – and is now being taught to their descendants. CGTN’s Alasdair Baverstock went back to school to report the story.

An ancient mathematical method invented by the Mayans is being re-taught to their descendants more than 2,000 years later.

Mayan Math, as it is known, made the mathematicians of the long-lost civilization that built Chichen Itza in the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula some of the most advanced of their time.

In a classroom in the remote village of Kanxoc, students learn how to do simple arithmetic using beans, sticks and pasta shells on a simple grid.

“We’ve seen very good results because of how simple the method is,” Silivia Febles, the principal at the village primary school, said. “The childrens’ first language is Mayan, and class is conducted in Mayan, so it makes things far easier than conducting lessons in Spanish.”

Watch the video report to see the basic principles behind how Mayan Math works.

The method was rediscovered by Dr. Luis Fernando Magaña, a physics professor at Mexico’s National Autonomous University.

“It’s a brilliant, intelligent and practical methodology,” he said, while calculating for the square-root of two using Mayan Math on his office chalkboard. “But it’s also so simple that it can be practiced on a dirt floor with minimal resources.”

“It’s also an amazing practice to develop analytical, logical and social faculties for the students’ young brains”, he concluded, leaving his sum at three decimal points. “These can be useful away from the classroom, and for a person’s entire life”.

While the method is not yet part of Mexico’s official education syllabus, it is nevertheless taught in hundreds of schools throughout the Yucatan, and all of the teachers have been trained by Dr Magaña personally.

As Mayan math spreads through these communities descended from the ancient Mayans, the teachers said that local pride in their students’ heritage travels with it.