More Algebra

Did the Mayans know about matrices?

Some scientists believe that the Mayan culture had a good working idea about matrices long before they became a part of mathematics. It is thought that the Mayans discovered how to place a set of “numbers” in columns and rows, then performed diverse operations on them, such as a method of adding and subtracting along diagonals to solve “equations” with unknown quantities. They may have even used the matrices for multiplication, division, and calculations of square and cubic roots on a matrix array by using a series of dots in a matrix to perform the operations. And there is evidence of these mathematical squares on their monuments, paintings, and even garments, including those of the Mayan priests and on crests of higher officials. But not everyone agrees with this notion; some scientists believe that the Mayan grids are merely mimicking objects in nature, such as the back of a turtle’s shell.


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