A 3,700-year-old mathematical puzzle has now been unraveled


The whole analysis of a trigonometric table of about 3,700 years led one to believe that the mathematicians of Babylon had already studied trigonometry long before the Greeks.

This analysis led to the belief that the mathematicians of Babylon were already studying trigonometry long before the Greeks, the research, published this Thursday, further revealed that this is the oldest and most accurate table ever known, possibly used to calculate construction techniques.

The table was found in Iraq at the beginning of the last century by Edgar Banks, an antique dealer who served as inspiration for the Indiana Jones character. The Plimpton 322 table, as it is officially called, consists of four columns and 15 rows of numbers that were surrounded by mystery so far.

“Plimpton 322 confused mathematicians for over 70 years, since it has a special pattern of numbers called triple Pythagorean”, said Daniel Mansfield, a mathematician at the Faculty of Science at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

According to the researchers, there is evidence that the people of Babylon knew the famous equation of Pythagoras (which says that in any right triangle, the square of the length of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the lengths of the legs), long before the Greek Name.

This table is “so unknown and advanced that in some respects it is superior to modern trigonometry”, Mansfield said. “In Plimpton 322 we see a simpler and more precise trigonometry that has clear advantages over ours”, explained the mathematician. “There are treasures in these Babylonian tables, but only a fraction is studied,” he added.

It is thought that it may have come from the ancient city of Larsa, situated in present-day Iraq, and was dated between 1822 BC and 1762 BC It is now displayed in the Library of Rare Books and Manuscripts of Columbia University in New York.