April 5 -- Using written symbols such as hearts, arrows and hands, the
ancient Aztecs maintained an arithmetic system that was far more complex than
previously understood, scientists said on Thursday.
The Aztecs, an empire in central Mexico toppled by
Spanish invaders in 1519, has long been recognized for its sophistication in
architecture, engineering, astronomy and other fields. And the new research
confirms arithmetic can be added to the list.
The researchers examined hundreds of drawings in two
manuscripts dating back to between 1540 and 1544 that were used to document
agricultural properties by the Aztec people in the city-state of Tepetlaoztoc,
near modern-day Mexico City.
¡¡ The Aztecs used a system that included symbols of hearts, hands,
arrows, bones and arms as alternatives to using fractions. An examination of
these hieroglyphic records showed the Aztecs used their own calculation system
to figure out, for example, the area of a parcel of land.
Barbara Williams, a researcher at the University of
Wisconsin-Rock County, said: "What we thought we knew about the Aztec measuring
system was a little simplistic. We've determined that it was more complex."
Williams worked with Maria del Carmen Jorge y Jorge
of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico on the study, which was published
in the journal Science.
"They used the four mathematical operations of
addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. But in almost all of the
early societies, they could do everything they needed to do, with just those
four. They didn't need square roots. They didn't need trigonometry," Williams
The two manuscripts - one found in a library in
France and the other in Mexico - were written on European paper by Aztecs a
couple of decades after the conquest, using the Aztec system.
They were land records drawn up that helped determine
taxation imposed on the local people by the Spaniards, Williams said.
The fact the Aztecs mathematically calculated areas
has been known since 1980, but until now there was little understanding of how
they did it, Williams said.
The Aztec empire held sway over a large part of
Mesoamerica for about a century until the arrival of the Spanish, and their
capital Tenochtitlan - with towering pyramids and sumptuous architecture - was
larger than any European city of the era.
(Source: China Daily)