Mathematical Code of 3,700-Year-Old Babylonian Tablet Cracked By Researchers

Mathematical Code of 3,700-Year-Old Babylonian Tablet Cracked By Researchers

Nearly a century ago, a 3700-year-old clay tablet was discovered in Southern Iraq, and its code has been cracked. This Babylonian tablet was later named Plimpton 322. It was discovered by Edgar J. Banks, who’s the inspiration behind Indiana Jones. Initially, the tablet was sold to George Plimpton, a publisher, and collector, for $10. However, it was later achieved by Columbia University in the 1930s. In the present, its meaning and importance to mathematics are finally getting the recognition it deserves.

According to studies conducted by Dr. Mansfield and Associate Professor Norman Wildberger from the University of New South Wales, trigonometry was first discovered by ancient Babylonians, not by Greeks. The researchers claim that the five columns and four rows of cuneiform numbers are components of a highly accurate trigonometric table. The previously accepted explanation was that it was a teacher’s aid to check students’ answers for math problems.

Babylonian tablet cracked
Source – Andrew Kelly

In a UNSW statement, researchers explained that in this ancient Babylonian tablet, right-angled triangles are described using a novel kind of trigonometry. This is based on ratios, not angles or circles. They added that this mathematical work is undoubtedly the work of a genius.

Trigonometry involves studying the relationships between the lengths and angles of triangles. It was previously thought to have been invented in Greece. Hipparchus, a Greek astronomer who lived around 120 BC, is considered as the father of the field. Astonishingly, Plimpton 322 predates Hipparchus’s studies by over 1,000 years.

Most of the Babylonian tablets have never been closely studies earlier. Therefore, this discovery is quite significant. By digging in to the history behind mathematical concepts, we create new opportunities to understand how ancient civilizations functioned. Researchers suggest that this tablet could have been used for surveying fields and architectural contructions.

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