History of Mathematics

Ancient Egyptian Mathematics
Egyptian measurement unit of the cubit. ©HistoryMaps
3000 BCE Jan 1 - 300 BCE

Ancient Egyptian Mathematics

Egypt

Ancient Egyptian mathematics was developed and used in Ancient Egypt c. 3000 to c. 300 BCE, from the Old Kingdom of Egypt until roughly the beginning of Hellenistic Egypt. The ancient Egyptians utilized a numeral system for counting and solving written mathematical problems, often involving multiplication and fractions. Evidence for Egyptian mathematics is limited to a scarce amount of surviving sources written on papyrus. From these texts it is known that ancient Egyptians understood concepts of geometry, such as determining the surface area and volume of three-dimensional shapes useful for architectural engineering, and algebra, such as the false position method and quadratic equations.


Written evidence of the use of mathematics dates back to at least 3200 BCE with the ivory labels found in Tomb U-j at Abydos. These labels appear to have been used as tags for grave goods and some are inscribed with numbers.[18] Further evidence of the use of the base 10 number system can be found on the Narmer Macehead which depicts offerings of 400,000 oxen, 1,422,000 goats and 120,000 prisoners.[19] Archaeological evidence has suggested that the Ancient Egyptian counting system had origins in Sub-Saharan Africa.[20] Also, fractal geometry designs which are widespread among Sub-Saharan African cultures are also found in Egyptian architecture and cosmological signs.[20]


The earliest true mathematical documents date to the 12th Dynasty (c. 1990–1800 BCE). The Moscow Mathematical Papyrus, the Egyptian Mathematical Leather Roll, the Lahun Mathematical Papyri which are a part of the much larger collection of Kahun Papyri and the Berlin Papyrus 6619 all date to this period. The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus which dates to the Second Intermediate Period (c. 1650 BCE) is said to be based on an older mathematical text from the 12th dynasty.[22]


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Last Updated: : Wed Jan 31 2024