Sydney, Aug 25: Babylonians were the pioneers of trigonometry — the study of triangles — and they trumped the Greeks by 1,000 years, revealed an alysis of a 3,700-year-old mathematical clay tablet, whose purpose is not known yet.
The findings showed that the Babylonian clay tablet, discovered in the early 1900s in southern Iraq, is the world’s oldest and most accurate trigonometric table, possibly used by ancient mathematical scribes to calculate how to construct palaces and temples and build cals.
Known as Plimpton 322, the small tablet has four columns and 15 rows of numbers written on it in the cuneiform script of the time using a base 60, or sexagesimal, system.
“Plimpton 322 was a powerful tool that could have been used for surveying fields or making architectural calculations to build palaces, temples or step pyramids,” said Daniel Mansfield, scientists at the University of New South Wales in Australia.
Until now, the widely accepted view was that the tablet was a teacher’s aid for checking students’ solutions of quadratic problems.
“The huge mystery, until now, was its purpose — why the ancient scribes carried out the complex task of generating and sorting the numbers on the tablet,” Mansfield said.
“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 fasciting mathematical work that demonstrates undoubted genius,” he said in the paper published in the jourl Historia Mathematica. (IANS)