A new origin for trigonometry

So who invented trigonometry? The Greeks according to many resources, articles and books. The Greek astronomer, Hipparchus, is often credited with compiling the first table of trigonometry in 140 BC, and is known as the father of trigonometry. There are however some references in early math history books that the Greeks may not be the first and they might’ve gotten their knowledge from much older civilizations. For example, David Eugene Smith notes in History of Mathematics, Vol II, states that according to the Greek historian Herodotus, the Greeks obtained their sundial (that relates to trigonometry), obtained from Babylon. Smith notes that “this is very likely true, for we know that the Egyptians used a sun clock as early as 1,500 BC.”

Well, now we have proof! According to this Aug. 2017 article in The Telegraph, trigonometry a mother in the ancient Babylon (today’s Iraq) at least 1,000 years before Hipparchus!

In the early 1900s in Southern Iraq the American archaeologist and diplomat Edgar Banks, apparently the inspiration for movie character Indiana Jones, uncovered an ancient mathematical tablet that is referred to as Plimpton 332. The tablet dates back to 1822 and 1762 BC! Strangely enough, the true meaning of the tablet, was unknown till recently. But “new research by the University of New South Wales, Australia, has shown it is the world’s oldest and most accurate trigonometric table.”

It is also intriguing that Babylonians used a base 60 mathematical system instead of a base 10 that we use now. The sexagesimal system makes division by 3 easier and results in far more accurate calculations.

It is time to revise the math and science history books. Who knows what else the ancient civilizations of the modern Middle East, including the Persian empire knew that we still don’t know enough about?

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