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  Instead of ten digits like we have today, the Maya used a base number of 20 in their mathematics.  (Base 20 is vigesimal.) They also used a system of bars and dots as "shorthand" for counting. A dot stood for one and a bar stood for five.

Because the base of the number system was 20, larger numbers were written down in powers of 20. We do that in our decimal system too. For example 32 is 3*10+2. 

In the Maya system, this would be 1*20+12, because they used 20 as base.  It was very easy to add and subtract using this number system. They did not use fractions.  Adding is just a matter of adding up dots and bars.  Maya merchants often used cocoa beans, which they laid out on the ground, to do these calculations.

shown at left, cacoa tree