Mysterious Babylonian Tablet Could Reveal Mathematical Secrets

An ancient Babylonian tablet who has been a mystery for a long time reveals that the ancient Mesopotamian civilization were first in the discovery of trigonometry; their methodology could even hold lessons for today’s mathematicians

The tablet has been named Plimpton 322 and was discovered in the early 1900s in Iraq. However, researchers have been struggling to understand its function; it shows 4 columns and 15 rows of numbers written in the contemporary cuneiform script, composed in a base 60, or sexagesimal system.

However, Dr. Daniel Mansfield says that his research unveiled the true meaning of the tablet.

“The huge mystery, until now, was [Plimpton 332’s] purpose—why the ancient scribes carried out the complex task of generating and sorting the numbers on the tablet,” he 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 fascinating mathematical work that demonstrates undoubted genius,” he continued

The computations might have been used for architectural purposes, for example when building the pyramids or similar structures.

“The tablet not only contains the world’s oldest trigonometric table; it is also the only completely accurate trigonometric table, because of the very different Babylonian approach to arithmetic and geometry.”

Mansfield also added that the 60-base system used by the ancient Babylonians could influence the way we use mathematics today, as it can facilitate more precise division.

“It’s rare that the ancient world teaches us something new,” he said.