We all have heard of the huge amount of clay tablets that were found over the centuries in the Near East and more specifically in the area of ancient
While a great number of them are still resting in the vaults of museums all
over the world and an unspecified number is still waiting to be excavated from
known and unknown archaeological sites, we do have an impressive collection at
hand to work with. Unfortunately, scholars capable of reading and/or deciphering
the cuneiform tablets are limited meaning that significant texts from these
tablets only surface occasionally, sometimes with very revealing results. Babylon
At present, we have a 3,700 years-old tablet from the collection of
proving that dear old Pythagoras was
not the true inventor of his famous theorem. Pythagoras was born in Columbia
University Samos, probably around 570 BC and lived till the old
age of 75 or even 80 years. His theorem has become common knowledge over the
centuries and we may never have heard of this mathematician, scientist and
The tablet mentioned above, however, is proof that Pythagoras’ theorem existed already some 1,000 years earlier. Also, the same tablet contains a series of trigonometry tables which according to scientists are more accurate than our modern counterparties. Trigonometry as such is said to be invented by Hipparchus of Nicaea, an astronomer, geographer and mathematician who lived probably from 190 till 120 BC. The abovementioned cuneiform, however, shows that the Babylonians were totally familiar with trigonometry more than one thousand years earlier. Besides, this tablet reveals a greater accuracy with clear advantages when compared to our modern trigonometry.
A team from the
of New South Wales in concluded after an
in-depth study that this tablet is the world’s oldest and the only completely
accurate trigonometric table. This little but important tool could effectively
be used in surveying fields as well as in the building process of constructions
like temples, palaces and pyramids. It seems that even in our modern world, the
tablet could have practical applications in computer graphics and education as
What eluded researchers till now was the true purpose of this tablet but today they established that the Babylonians used a novel kind of trigonometry based on ratios instead of angles and circles. Using the number 60 instead of our 10 (decimal) as base for their calculations enabled the Babylonians to reach more accurate fractions and in the present case the system proves to be an absolute genius.
Nothing new under the sun, one could say. I am often itching to see more of these cuneiform tablets to be deciphered although they have already revealed some key moments in history (see also: The Cyrus cylinder and ancient Persia: a new beginning; Alexander the Great and the Magi; The troops of the King deserted him; and Two key Afterthoughts on Gaugamela).