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History & Heritage


These Babylonian vestiges might shake the history of geometry

Clay tablets found near Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, could completely change the way we understand the history of mathematics.

As far back as antiquity allows us to go, it is now the sale of this field, in ancient Mesopotamia, recorded on a circular clay tablet, which would be the first trace of applied geometry. We are then 3,700 years back in time.

The period of ancient Babylon lasted between about 1900 and 1600 B.C., and saw an unprecedented advancement in religious, literary and scientific subjects. We are therefore several centuries before the birth of Pythagoras, the philosopher and mathematician who gave his name to a theorem of applied geometry now taught in schools around the world.

Now, on the circular clay tablet on which the diagram of the sold agricultural plot appears, there is also a series of complex numbers known as Pythagorean triples.

Late discovery

Si.427 -this is the name used by mathematicians to designate the clay tablet- was first discovered near Baghdad in 1894, but it spent more than 100 years in a museum in Istanbul, ignored by researchers. *

The relic is an invaluable source of information on the scientific progress of the Babylonian people on the one hand, but also on their customs and their way of dividing and selling land, at a time when the first notions of privatization were appearing.

See also

Past meets present amidst the Ruins of Babylon

Published on 13 August 2021