Strange Science: Babylonian Trigonometry

ZigguratFor years, mathematicians and scientists have believed that the Greeks developed trigonometry. However, an new analysis of a 3,700-year-old Babylonian artifact has changed their tune.

Plimpton 332, a Babylonian tablet that was excavated in the early 1900s, contains the world’s oldest and most accurate trigonometric table. Modern math uses multiples of tens for most operations, while this tablet uses a base 60 system. Because it’s easier to divide by 60 than 3, this makes the calculations on the table much more accurate. So not only does this tablet disprove the Greeks as the fathers of trigonometry, but also presents opportunities for mathematicians to refine their trigonometric data.

The article on this analysis appears inĀ Historia Mathematica, the official journal of the International Commission on the History of Mathematics. But if you want to read more about it, you can find another article here!

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