“the Application of Mathematics in Pre-Columbian Civilizations”

Topics: Pyramid, Maya civilization, Egyptian pyramids Pages: 5 (2095 words) Published: November 12, 2008
Since the commencement of human existence, personal qualities such as: the pursuit of knowledge, the desire to expand ones horizons, and the inclination to establish and follow a dream, has significantly impacted society. From the earliest days, right up until the present time, a number of accomplishments have filled the vast expanse of time. Such accomplishments span from exemplary literary works, such as those of Cicero, Virgil, and Goethe; to philosophical breakthroughs of men like Rene Descartes who said, “I think therefore I am”, and finally to the unprecedented discoveries in the fields of mathematics and science. Among all the civilizations of time, those of the Pre-Columbian Era seem to have successfully applied mathematical concepts, mainly geometry and algebra, in a somewhat uncanny manner. One cannot all but question how engineers of today’s time, men and women with almost limitless resources, suffer periodic setbacks, while structures of the primitive Pre-Columbians have remained largely intact up until the present day. Clearly no one can compare the Golden Gate Bridge, Lincoln Tunnel, and Empire State building to Pre-Columbian structures, yet the simplistic success of these ancient people causes substantial curiosity. It seems, although only a personal conjecture, that through the analysis of modern day mathematics, insight into the minds of the long lost masterminds behind some of the worlds greatest architecture and the mathematics emphasized in their extraordinary works, can be ascertained. The ancient Maya, although a civilization that first emerged during the pre-classic period, actually have a lot of similarities to the people of the modern era. Socially, politically, and even creatively, they were far more advanced then many may have assumed. However, the advancements that the Mayans made in mathematics were both intriguing and impressive. Formally, the Mayans are credited with the development of a number system based on a combination of lines and dots, and although not literally known to be geometers, like Euclid for example, geometry was an important part of their culture (Schele 82). Through simply looking at the structures of the Mayans, and then studying the geometry available to the world of academia, a precise realization of almost every form of this ancient math that the Mayans capitalized on, can be discovered. The first and most obvious geometric structures are the ancient pyramids. These temples were built mainly for religious purposes and the glorification of the king. Yet, regardless of how observative, or lacking, the everyday Mayan may have been to their surroundings, the pyramids were an expression and home of the era’s geometric beauty (Schele 105). While building pyramids, the Mayans, whether they realized it or not, were applying some very important geometric related concepts. Although there are probably countless books written on the geometry of a pyramid, three main focuses seem intertwined in most of the Mayans work. Those areas that seem to be the most important are: center of gravity, parallel lines, and congruent sides. Although such focuses may seem rather basic, they are in fact some of the most important concepts surrounding the world of pyramids. The first of these three main areas, center of gravity, may at a glance be puzzling in the sense of its relation to geometry, or even a pyramid for that matter. Yet, a center of gravity is not only geometric, but also played a paramount role in the Mayan pyramids. Consider a tall pyramid with a terrible center of gravity, caused by, for example, one side of the pyramid consisting of a stone that weighs three times more then that used for the other sides. Although it may be fine for the first one hundred years, or even two hundred, a tall structure with a poor center of gravity is bound to crumble over time, and certainly will not last hundreds upon hundred of years. The fact that they are still standing...
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