Ancient Babylon: Advanced Mathematics

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The Hour in Ancient Babylon
An Introduction to the Ancient Middle East
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Babylon has its share of firsts and successes, but quite possibly none is more astonishing than the tremendous mathematical knowledge they displayed.

And nowhere is this more evident than in modern mathematics, which has at its base many concepts invented in ancient Babylon.

For instance, let's say you calculate how many seconds are in a day. What do you do? You multiply 60 (seconds in a minute) by 60 (minutes in an hour) by 24 (hours in a day). At every step of the way, you have used number identities invented by Babylonian mathematicians. These ancient geniuses used 60 as their base number. Number tallies had the number 60 in the second place from the decimal. For example, the number 61 would be written 11. (This is a simplification for our purposes, this being a survey, but the concept is the same.)

The Babylonians also knew about fractions, squares, and square roots, cubes and cube roots, log functions, and other kinds of higher math. How do we know? Tablets written in cuneiform, the wedge-shaped writing these ancient people used, tell us so. The equations and such were carved into clay tablets and then baked by the heat of the Sun. As such, they are perfectly equipped to survive centuries, which is what has happened. Tablets like the one below illustrate the higher math used in Babylon.

The Babylonians also used the number 60 to calculate the number of degrees in a circle. And they had standards for length, weight, and volume.

Their achievements in mathematics are astounding to modern minds because we assume that such mathematical concepts are more modern (read: Greek) in origin. But the proof is there, on those tablets, the ones baked in the Sun. Math in ancient Babylon was advanced indeed.

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