Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mathematics forever - in stone

"Papyrus, parchment, paper ... videotape, DVDs, Blu-ray discs — long after all these materials have crumbled to dust, the first recording medium of all, the cuneiform clay tablet of ancient Mesopotamia, may still endure."

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.

Read more about the exhibition 'A culture in mathematics' in this New York Times-article.

Watch the slide show of beautiful clay tablets.