Multiplying and dividing large numbers. Simplifying fractions and converting percentages. Handling square roots and exponents. These and other skills are the veritable foundation on which all of mathematics rests. To master them is to unlock the door to more advanced areas of study—such as algebra, geometry, and calculus—and to discover new levels of confidence in dealing with the math of everyday life.
Five hundred years ago, Spanish conquistadors searching for gold and new lands to settle stumbled on a group of independent city-states in Mesoamerica, a region extending for more than a thousand miles from the desert of northern Mexico to the rain forest of Central America. Sophisticated beyond the Spaniards’ wildest imaginings, these people were the Aztecs, the Maya, and related cultures that shared common traditions of religion, government, social organization, the arts, agriculture, engineering, and trade.
Scientists studying the universe at all scales often marvel at the seemingly "unreasonable effectiveness" of mathematics—its uncanny ability to reveal the hidden order behind the most complex of nature's phenomena. They are not alone: Economists, sociologists, political scientists, and many other specialists have also experienced the wonder of math's muscle power.