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Mayan Agriculture

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Throughout history, and across the world there have been many indigenous tribes. However, one of the most known tribes has been the Mayans. The Maya civilization is a Mesoamerican culture, noted for having the only known fully developed written language of the pre-Columbian Americas, as well as for its architecture, and sophisticated mathematical and astronomical systems.

The Mayans were once one of the most dominant indigenous societies of Mesoamerica, they are a remarkable group that continue to spark many people’s curiosity with their interesting culture and mysterious historical background. The Maya developed mathematics, astronomy and calendar making, which, combined with their unique religious beliefs & bloodletting rituals, played key roles in the Maya agricultural society. The Maya were agricultural, and grew crops like squash, beans, and maize in order to survive. And while hunting and fishing were also a means of foo and nourishment, many of the Mayan’s main staples of food came from their crops.

As previously stated, Mayan agriculture was influenced not only by their religious beliefs and rituals, but also by their mathematical, astronomical and time keeping or calendar systems. But that isn’t to say that some physical labor, effort and ingenuity were not also put to use.

The Mayans practiced 'slash and burn' agriculture. Slash and burn agriculture is a method of growing food in which wild or forested land is clear cut and any remaining vegetation burned. The resulting layer of ash provides the newly-cleared land with a nutrient-rich layer to help fertilize crops. They cut down an area of forest and burned the trees. However, after a few years the soil would lose its fertility. The farmers would then 'slash and burn' another part of the forest. Meanwhile the abandoned area would become overgrown again. By using their unique mathematical system, the Mayans were able to accurately calculate not only the time in between crop rotations, but also how measure the size of a given field and the area needed for a particular crop.

Experts are unsure when the Maya developed their mathematical system. But surviving texts demonstrate that they developed an adaptable and simple-to-use mathematical system.

The Maya used a base 20 numerical system, unlike our current base 10 or the Babylonian base 60 system that we still use for time-keeping. Consequently, instead of counting, as we do, in multiples of 1, 10, 100, and so on, the Maya counted in 1s, 20s, 400s, and so on.

Another difference between the Mayan system of counting and our system is that, whereas we have a unique symbol for each numerical value (0-9), the Maya used only three symbols to form all their numbers: a dot representing one, a bar representing five, and a shell representing 20 or zero, depending on its placement.

The sophisticated Mayan system of math enabled them to develop accurate time measurements, erect huge step-pyramids, and calculate astronomical observations needed for planting and harvesting crops. It also allowed the Priests of the Mayan religion to accurately calculate important dates and times for sacrifices’ and offerings to the gods over the crops.

Along with mathematics, astronomy shaped the way the Mayan measured time, as the sky was like a giant clock or computer for them, and they were obsessed with observing and measuring its movements. By combining their astronomical observations and mathematical reasoning, Maya priests calculated the length of the solar year at 365.242 days; about seventeen seconds shorter than the figure reached by modern astronomers. They understood the movements of heavenly bodies well enough to plot planetary cycles and predict eclipses of the sun and the moon. They built pyramid cities with the buildings being astronomically aligned to important celestial events.

In the Mesoamerican culture, the practice of astronomy was extremely important. To the Maya of Mesoamerica, this ancient science reflected order in the universe and the gods' place in it. This order reflected an inherent harmony present in their general theological view of the universe. To the Mayans, capturing the essence of time was of the utmost importance. In their cosmology, space and time were inevitably intertwined, as is evidenced by their complex calendar system that combines spatial attributes of the universe, such as animals and plants, with temporal movements of astronomical objects. Although the Mayans never invented specific time-keeping devices, they used the sky and their mathematics as a method of measuring the passage of time.

Finally, probably one of the most tangible and practical benefits of astronomy was on agriculture. The appearance of certain constellations or planets in the sky heralded the planting season. The more they understood the sky, the more assurance there was that the

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