Saturday, December 31, 2016

Pythagoras was scooped by 1300 years

Thirty-eight hundred years ago, on the hot river plains of what is now southern Iraq, a Babylonian student did a bit of schoolwork that centuries later would change our understanding of ancient mathematics. The student scooped up a palm-sized clump of wet clay, formed a disc about the size and shape of a hamburger, and let it dry down a bit in the sun. On the surface of the moist clay the student drew a diagram that showed the people of the Old Babylonian Period (1,900–1,700 B.C.E.) fully understood the principles of the “Pythagorean Theorem” 1300 years before Greek geometer Pythagoras was born, and were also capable of calculating the square root of two to six decimal places. ...

“This geometry tablet is one of the most-reproduced cultural objects that Yale owns — it’s published in mathematics textbooks the world over,” says Professor Benjamin Foster, curator of the Babylonian Collection, which includes the tablet. ...

The tablet, formally known as YBC 7289, “Old Babylonian Period Mathematical Text,” came to Yale in 1909 as part of a much larger collection of cuneiform tablets assembled by J. Pierpont Morgan and donated to Yale.
--Patrick Lynch, YaleNews, on nothing new under the sun