A Babylonian clay tablet would appear to show that geometry was developed by humans 1,400 years before than expected, since ancient Babylonian astronomers calculated the position of Jupiter using calculation terms such as “long” and “short.” Previously, it was thought that geometry started in Europe and that astronomers from the ancient region based in Mesopotamia managed just arithmetical concepts.

Findings published in the Science Magazine demonstrate that Babylonian astronomers used complex geometry to calculate the orbit of what they called the White Star. Mathieu Ossendrijver of Humboldt University in Berlin, who made the research, dedicated himself to analyze thousands of tablets that can be found in the British Museum in London.

A Babylonian clay tablet would appear to show that geometry was developed by humans 1,400 years before than thought. Credit: Chicago Tribune

“I couldn’t understand what they were about. I couldn’t understand anything about them, neither did anyone else. I could only see that they dealt with geometrical stuff. This tablet contains numbers and computations, additions, divisions, multiplications. It doesn’t actually mention Jupiter. It’s a highly abbreviated version of a more complete computation that I already knew from five, six, seven other tablets,” said Mathieu Ossendrijver of Humboldt University in Berlin to the Washington Post.

After several days of analyzing pictures of old tablets, Ossendrijver found that one tablet had marks of an abbreviated calculation that he recognized. He then studied other four tablets and discovered that the five of them estimated the predictable motion of the largest planet in the Solar System, in relation to other planets and distant stars.

What astonished the scientific community is that the method that Babylonians used to calculate the location of Jupiter looked similar to the astronomical geometry techniques that were elaborated in the 14th century in Oxford. John Steele, a professor specialized in ancient astronomy said to the WSP that the new findings demonstrate how clever antique astronomers were.

It is described in the five tablets that were written between 350 and 50 BCE, that the position of Jupiter was at 60 and 120 days when it appeared along the horizon. Astronomers also added geometric calculus using a trapezoid area as a base, and words that resemble “long” and “short,” according to a public release posted on Eurekalert!

It is calculated that mathematics appeared about 5,000 years ago in Mesopotamia and Babylonia. The latter was one of the homes of cuneiform script, a system of writing that revolutionized the old civilizations. Also, they developed a sexagesimal numbering system. Definitely, the findings present a completely new perspective for researchers who analyze old civilizations, which every day appear to be more and more complex.

Source: Journal Science