Tags: babylonians | trigonometry | ancient | tablet

Babylonians Trigonometry Experts? Ancient Tablet Reveals 'Genius'

Dr. Daniel Mansfield discusses an ancient Babylonian tablet the could contain trigonometry secrets to building and surveying. (YouTube)

By    |   Friday, 25 August 2017 06:40 PM

An ancient tablet may contain trigonometry secrets suggesting Babylonians may have understood the advanced mathematics 1,000 years before Greeks.

The meaning of an ancient tablet, Plimpton 322, discovered in Iraq in the early 1900s, was explored in a recent study published in Historia Matematica.

"Our research reveals that Plimpton 322 describes the shapes of right-angle triangles using a novel kind of trigonometry based on ratios, not angles and circles. It is a fascinating mathematical work that demonstrates undoubted genius,” said Dr. Daniel Mansfield, of the University of New South Wales' School of Mathematics and Statistics in Sydney, Australia, according to Newsweek.

Mansfield co-authored the study with UNSW associate professor Norman Wildberger.

Mansfield described the tablet in a video posted on the university's YouTube channel, featured above.

"Our research shows that it's a trigonometric table so unfamiliar and advanced that, in some respects, it's superior even to modern trigonometry," he said in the video.

He speculated that the tablet could have been used to survey fields or to build architectural structures like palaces or pyramids. He called it the world's oldest and the only completely accurate trigonometric table on record.

The tablet's more accurate base 60 system could have applications in modern day surveying, computers, and education, Mansfield said.

"It's rare that the ancient world teaches us something new. After 3,000 years, Babylonia mathematics might just be coming back into fashion," he said in the video.

Mathematics professor Duncan Melville of St. Lawrence University isn't convinced, according to National Geographic.

"Apart from the column headings, the tablet just consists of columns of numbers, and this invites a great deal of purely mathematical speculation," Melville told National Geographic in an email. "Some of the different interpretations for construction of the tablet are mathematically equivalent and so just having the output on the tablet does not tell you much about the process used to generate that output."

Mathematics professor Donald Allen of Texas A&M University also raised doubts, saying key information from pieces broken from the tablet leave too much to conjecture.

"Bottom line is this: If interpreted as a trig table, it would be the oldest known. Some of their computations were very accurate. Babylonian arithmetic was rather clumsy, but then so were Egyptian and Greek variations," Allen said, according to National Geographic.

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An ancient tablet may contain trigonometry secrets, suggesting that Babylonians may have understood the advanced mathematics 1,000 years before Greeks.
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Friday, 25 August 2017 06:40 PM
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