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Lovers of Ancient Greece, in the meantime, will be dismayed to realise that trigonometry, hitherto attributed to the Greeks, actually emerged 1,500 years prior to their society, in Babylonia.

The tablet, known as Plimpton 322, was discovered in the early 1900s in what is now Southern Iraq by archaeologist, academic, diplomat and antiquities dealer Edgar Banks, who provided the inspiration for the fictional character 'Indiana Jones'.

'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, ' said Mansfield. Similarities in its writing style to that on other Babylonian tablets enabled experts to date it to between 1822 B.C. and 1726 B.C., around the time that King Hammurabi ruled the Babylonian Empire. Its cuneiform script uses a base 60, or sexagesimal, system, which is similar to our time clock, and appears to contain a special pattern of numbers called Pythagorean triples. Sixty being, of course, far easier to divide by three. The tablet, known as Plimpton 322, was previously identified as a table filled with sets of Pythagorean triples, but nobody knew its goal was anything more than an educational tool.

THIS 3,700-year-old clay tablet was likely used by ancient Babylonians to calculate how to build palaces, temples and canals.

The tablet isn't just a relic of a bygone era - to be confined to the recesses of the British Museum - either. His "table of chords" on a circle was the oldest trig table, until now.

Plimpton 322, a 3,700-year-old Babylonian tablet held in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University in NY.

The left edge of the tablet is broken, and the Australian researchers reckon that there were originally six columns.

Daniel Mansfield of the School of Mathematics and Statistics in the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Faculty of Science, Australia, says he has discovered the tablet's true meaning.

Previously, researchers thought that Plimpton 322 might be some sort of teaching aid for the simply geometric equation, but the UNSW Sydney team believes it's much more important. And as noted, it's also rewriting history; Greek astronomer Hipparchus, who lived around 120 BC, is normally considered the founding father of trigonometry.

Mansfield read about Plimpton 322 by chance and made a decision to study Babylonian mathematics after realising that it had parallels with the rational trigonometry of Wildberger's book Divine Proportions: Rational Trigonometry to Universal Geometry.

Wildberger said: 'It opens up new possibilities not just for modern mathematics research, but also for mathematics education. The group's research was published in the journal Historia Mathematica.

It was not clear why the scribes had performed the complex task of generating and sorting the numbers on the tablet, according to Mansfield.


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