The curious collection of a slightly mad scientist
Before Pythagoras: The Culture of Old Babylonian Mathematics displays thirteen Babylonian tablets which show that people of the region were math experts more than 1,000 years before Greek mathematicians were even born.
Held at the New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW), the event exhibits tablets dating from the Old Babylonian Period (ca. 1900-1700 BCE) along with supplemental documentary material.
“It has long been widely recognized that many of the critical achievements of Western Civilization, including writing and the code of law that is the basis for our present-day legal system, developed in ancient Mesopotamia,” Artdaily quoted ISAW director for exhibitions and public programs Jennifer Chi.
“By demonstrating the richness and sophistication of ancient Mesopotamian mathematics, Before Pythagoras adds an important dimension to the public knowledge of the history of historic cultures and attainments of present-day Iraq,” she added.
The tablets, collected from the Columbia Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and the Yale Babylonian Collection, will be on display until December 17, 2010.
“The evidence we have for Old Babylonian mathematics is amazing not only in its abundance, but also in its range, from basic arithmetic to really challenging problems and investigations,” said exhibition organizer Alexander Jones. …
The scribes learned and practiced mathematics while working in fields such as accounting, building-project planning, and other professions in which mathematics is essential.
… The exhibited tablets are in cuneiform script and cover the full spectrum of mathematical activity from arithmetical tables copied by scribes-in-training to sophisticated work on topics today classified as number theory and algebra.
Many of the solutions used by scribes to solve the mathematical problems depended on principles that were believed to have been discovered by Greeks in the sixth century BCE and later.
Looks like plans for a pyramid. 😉
The lesson: Advanced technology and science must be used, in addition to the common good, to stay ahead militarily. Otherwise some Hittites will sack your Babylon and take your stuff.
Ca. 1531 BC, Mursili led an unprecedented march of 2000 km south into the heart of Mesopotamia where he sacked the city of Babylon, bringing an end to the Amorite dynasty of Hammurabi. This raid did not result in any Hittite control over Babylonia, but did result in the emergence of the Kassites as the rulers there. When Mursilis returned to his kingdom, he was assassinated in a conspiracy led by his brother-in-law, Hantili I (who took the throne) – links
Perhaps Iran (third largest oil reserves) knows this lesson. Hmm, what other places are rich but lack significant weapons?
Iraq has announced a 25% increase in oil reserves. That would mean its oil reserves are second only to Saudi Arabia. – Oct 4, 2010. publicradio.org
Will history say we sacked Iraq?