YBC 4713 is a tablet showing a series of abstract problems. While some of the mathematical techniques learned in scribal schools were intended for use in the scribes’ later careers, many would never have been applied in practical situations.

Credit: Yale Babylonian Collection

Filed under Anthropology Archaeology Math Problems Babylon

A photograph of the University of Pennsylvania Museum excavations at Nippur in 1899 or 1900. Nippur was the principal center of scribal training in the Old Babylonian period. The tablets excavated there provided the basis for recent research on mathematical education and curriculum.

Credit: John Henry Haynes, courtesy of the Penn Museum Archives

Filed under Anthropology Archaeology Dig Nippur Babylon Math

YBC 7289 is a small clay disc containing a rough sketch of a square and its diagonals. Across one of the diagonals is scrawled 1,24,51,10 — a sexagesimal number that corresponds to the decimal number 1.4142129, an approximation of the square root of 2. Below is the answer to the problem of calculating the diagonal of a square whose sides are 0.5 units. This bears on the issue of whether the Babylonians had discovered Pythagoras’s theorem some 1,300 years before Pythagoras did.

Credit: Yale Babylonian Collection

Filed under Anthropology Archaeology Babylon theorem Math Ancient Pythagora Clay