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News from Mathnasium of Monterey Park

History + Math

Aug 29, 2017

Is it possible that ancient people were using Trigonometry as early as 1800 BC?

Science historians have long regarded the creator of trigonometry to be the Greek astronomer Hipparchus and his contemporaries. They are believed to develop the system around the second century C.E. to precisely calculate the movement of the zodiac signs in the sky.

A small clay tablet, which dates back to the year 1800 B.C.E., is dubbed Plimpton 322 after George Arthur Plimpton, a New York publisher who purchased it in the 192o's.  He donated the tablet with its scrawled rows of numbers to Columbia University in 1936—where it still remains today, researchers of the new study Daniel Mansfield and Norman Wildberger write for The Conversation.

"It opens up new possibilities not just for modern mathematics research, but also for mathematics education," Canadian mathematician and researcher, Norman Wildberger says.  "With Plimpton 322 we see a simpler, more accurate trigonometry that has clear advantages over our own."

The tablet could have had practical use in surveying or construction, writes Sarah Gibbens for National Geographic, allowing builders to take the heights and lengths of buildings and calculate the slope of a roof.  Read the rest of the article here.