Friday, February 22, 2013

The Golden Ratio in Ancient Maya Settlement Patterns

According to a very interesting article that just appeared in the Journal of Archaeological Science, the ancient Maya apparently used the Golden Ratio, phi, in their architectural layouts. Phi (φ) is the natural constant that arises when the ratio of two measurements is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two original measurements. It is an irrational number close to 1.618.... James Doyle, the author of the article, found that the plaza encompassed by a Late Preclassic E-Group at El Palmar, Guatemala, is a Golden Rectangle, that is, a rectangle in which the lengths of the sides exhibit the Golden Ratio.

Diagram of the Golden Ratio (from Wikipedia).

It should be noted that Margarita Martínez de Sobral previously suggested that the ancient Mesoamerican peoples employed the Golden Ratio in their art and architecture. She pointed to the proportions of Lintel 25 from Yaxchilan, but she offered few architectural examples of the principle. Martínez de Sobral also discussed several other interesting geometric constructions that may be observed in ancient Mesoamerican art and architecture.

I hope that Doyle's article inspires further research into this interesting aspect of ancient mathematics and aesthetics.


Doyle, James A. (2013). Early Maya geometric planning conventions at El Palmar, Guatemala. Journal of Archaeological Science 40:793-798.

Martínez de Sobral, Margarita (2000) Geometría Mesoamericana. México: Fondo de Cultura Económica.