Ancient Clay Tablet Holds Modern-Day Mathematics Applications

26 August, 2017, 01:11 | Author: Lorena Waters
  • Ancient Babylonian Tablet Identified as the World's Oldest Trigonometry Table

Researchers also demonstrated how ancient scribes, who used a base 60 numerical arithmetic similar to our time clock, rather than the modern base 10 number system, could have generated the numbers on the tablet. Hipparchus, a Greek mathematician and astronomer whose work dates to between 160 and 120 BC, is credited as the father of trigonometry, but a almost 4,000-year-old stone tablet may be about to totally rewrite the history books.

"A treasure-trove of Babylonian tablets exist, but only a fraction of them have been studied yet".

A Babylonian clay tablet dating back 3,700 years has been identified as the world's oldest and most accurate trigonometric table, suggesting the Babylonians beat the ancient Greeks to the invention of trigonometry by over 1,000 years.

Donald Allen, a mathematics professor at Texas A&M University, is also skeptical that the researchers have proven Plimpton 322 was used for trigonometry.

Those of you who can remember trigonometry can feel free to forget it, because ancient Babylonian mathematicians had a better way of doing it - using base 60!

The 15 rows on the tablet describe a sequence of 15 right-angle triangles, which are steadily decreasing in inclination, according to the UNSW. Dated to between 1822 and 1762 BC, the tablet likely originated in the ancient Sumerian city of Larsa. During his life, roughly dating to 120 B.C., he famously created a table of chords drawn from the center of a circle that resulted in angles from which he derived trigonometric formulas.

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"It is a fascinating mathematical work that demonstrates undoubted genius", said University of New South Wales researcher Daniel Mansfield in a press release. The vertical lines continue on the bottom and reverse, which are otherwise empty.

"The huge mystery, until now, was its objective - why the ancient scribes carried out the complex task of generating and sorting the numbers on the tablet", the researchers said. That's not entirely accurate, as a new discovery proves that both were invented by the Babylonians a thousand years earlier. Researchers have long believed the clay tablet was intended as a teacher's aide for checking students' solutions to quadratic mathematical problems. It opens up new possibilities not just for modern mathematics research, but also for mathematics education. "With Plimpton 322 we see a simpler, more accurate trigonometry that has clear advantages over our own".

Normally held at Columbia University in NY, the tablet's uses are detailed in a Historia Mathematica journal study.

Its research apparently shows that Plimpton 322 describes the shapes of right-angle triangles using a novel kind of trigonometry based on ratios, not angles and circles.

Building on previous research, Mansfield and Wildberger were able to show that two columns and 23 rows are missing-the original tablet contained six columns and 38 rows. The tablet was bequeathed to Columbia by publisher George Arthur Plimpton, who had purchased the artifact from Edgar Banks.

"This is a rare example of the ancient world teaching us something new".



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