Scientist Deciphers 3,700-year-old Tablet and Changes the History of Trigonometry Forever!

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This could change and improve the way we calculate in the future!

It has been believed that Trigonometry emerged from Greece during the 3rd century BC from applications of geometry to astronomical studies. As a matter of fact, the name Trigonometry itself came from the greek words trigōnon, meaning “triangle” and metron, meaning “measure”.

However, after this 3,700 Babylonian tablet was unearthed and finally deciphered, the early study of triangles can be traced to Babylonian mathematics. This could forever change the history of mathematics, and improve the way we calculate in the future.

Dr. Daniel Mansfield and his team at the University of New South Wales in Australia found evidence that the Babylonians were already doing trigonometry 1,500 years before the Greeks! Dr. Mansfield and his team finally deciphered the tablet and realized that it was actually an ancient trigonometry table.

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The tablet, called Plimpton 322, is a broken piece of clay roughly the size of a postcard. It was filled with four columns of cuneiform numbers around 1800 BCE, probably in the ancient city of Larsa (now in Iraq) and was removed in the 1920s. George Plimpton bought it in 1922 and bequeathed it to Columbia University, which has owned it since 1936.

“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 Mansfield in a press release. “The tablet not only contains the world’s oldest trigonometric table; it is also the only completely accurate trigonometric table, because of the very different Babylonian approach to arithmetic and geometry.”

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The ancient scribes of Plimpton 322 seem to have used a base 60 system for arithmetic, like our time clock, rather than the base 10 number system we use today.

“With Plimpton 322 we see a simpler, more accurate trigonometry that has clear advantages over our own,” said Mansfield.

He added: “A treasure-trove of Babylonian tablets exists, but only a fraction of them have been studied yet. The mathematical world is only waking up to the fact that this ancient but very sophisticated mathematical culture has much to teach us.”


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