On Old Babylonian Mathematical Terminology and its Transformations in the Mathematics of Later Periods

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Third-millennium (bce) Mesopotamian mathematics seems to have possessed a very restricted technical terminology. However, with the sudden flourishing of supra-utilitarian mathematics during the Old Babylonian period, in particular its second half (1800-1600 bce) a rich terminology unfolds. This mostly concerns terms for operations and for definition of a problem format, but names for mathematical objects, for tools, and for methods or tricks can also be identified. In particular the terms for operations and the way to structure problems turn out to allow distinction between single localities or even schools. After the end of the Old Babylonian period, the richness of the terminology is strongly reduced, as is the number of known mathematical texts, but it presents us with survival as well as innovations.
Apart from analyzing the terminology synchronically and diachronically, the article looks at two long-lived non-linguistic mathematical practices that can be identified through the varying ways they are spoken about: the use of some kind of calculating board, and a way to construct the perimeter of a circle without calculating it - the former at least in use from the 26th to the 5th century bce, the later from no later than Old Babylonian times and surviving until the European 15th century ce.
TidsskriftGanita Bharati
Udgave nummer1
Sider (fra-til)53-99
StatusUdgivet - 2018

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