[Math Lair] The Maya

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The ancient Maya created a complex civilisation in Central America that lasted between about 1000 B.C. to the time of the Spanish conquest around the year 1500.

The Maya counted in a base-20 system; specifically, in a base-5–20 system, probably the result of counting on fingers and toes. At least as early as 400 B.C., the Maya and their neighbours were using a place value numeral system, although the system did not include at the time a zero. However, a few hundred years later, they had, independently of the invention of the sign for zero in India, invented a sign for zero, using a shell sign in the place-value notation.