The Old Babylonian (OB) era from 1900 to 1600 B.C.E. in southern Iraq is a remarkable period in world history. Thanks to thousands of clay cuneiform tablets, we have a good idea not only of the rich culture of this civilization, but also of their mathematics --which is in many respects quite different from the mathematics of today.

Most notable amongst these tablets is Plimpton 322, which shows that OB scribes knew about Pythagorean triples more than 1000 years before Pythagoras. But what was the purpose of this tablet? This has been a major mystery for 70 years, and in this talk we reveal the answer. Along the way, we will delve into the remarkable OB number system, their solutions of quadratic equations, square root approximations, and the role of a proto-trigonometry which shares features with the pyramid building mathematics of the ancient Egyptians.


Daniel Mansfield & Norman Wildberger

Research Area

University of New South Wales


Tue, 09/05/2017 - 1:00pm to 2:00pm


RC-4082, The Red Centre, UNSW