COUNCIL CHRONICLE – A team of scientists believes to have discovered the purpose behind an ancient Babylonian tablet, one that has been dated as being some 3,700 years old. According to their research, this might be carrying the first and oldest, most accurate trigonometric table.
One that could have possibly been used by ‘ancient mathematical scribes’ in calculating how to construct temples and palaces and build canals.
Mystery of Ancient Babylonian Tablet Finally Resolved?
The discovery belongs to a team of researchers from The University of New South Wales (UNSW Sidney) of Australia. Their study indicates that it was the Babylonians and not the Greeks who were the first to study trigonometry.
Their claims from their analysis of an ancient Babylonian tablet, which seems to be depicting a trigonometric table. This clay tablet is more commonly known as Plimpton 322.
It was discovered back in the early 1900s by Edgar Banks, the reported source of inspiration for the famous character, Indiana Jones, in what is now southern Iraq.
Plimpton 322 was dated as being some 3,700 years old, and is written in the cuneiform script of the time and has a sexagesimal system (a base 60). It presents four columns with 15 rows of numbers.
Scientists have wondered as to its use for decades, but now believe to know the answer.
“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,” states Dr. Daniel Mansfield of the UNSW Faculty of Science’s School of Mathematics and Statistics.
He then continues by stating that is the oldest yet discovered example of a trigonometric table. Hipparchus, a Greek astronomer that lived around 120 BC has long since been considered the father of trigonometry. However, this Babylonian clay tablet predates him by more than 1,000 years.
The study team also points out that, besides being the as yet oldest, this ancient clay tablet is also the “only completely accurate trigonometric table”. This is because of the “very different” approach to geometry and arithmetic of the ancient Babylonians.
Study results and details on the ancient Babylonian tablet are available in a paper in the journal Historia Mathematica of the International Commission on the History of Mathematics.
Image Source: Wikimedia