Exhibit Shows Advanced Mathematics from Mesopotamia


An exhibition of 13 ancient Babylonian tablets shows that Mesopotamian mathematics was more complex than we thought. The tablets date back to about 1900 BC.  They are about basic mathematics as well as more complex mathematical problems.,

About 900 tablets survived the Babylonian era. They were discovered in the 19th century. During the first part of the 20th century, an Austrian, Otto Neugebauer , began to decipher them.

Many Mesopotamian scholars came from the city of Nippur, in the southern part of today’s Iraq. They tried to solve typical situations of everyday life, like the area of a field or how broad trenches were. They wrote down their calculations on clay tablets. Experts say that more sites could be excavated but, because of the current war-like situation in Iraq, this is not possible today.

The most famous tablet shows a square and two diagonal lines connecting the corners.  It proves that the Babylonians tried to find out how the sides of a rectangle and diagonals were related, about 1,500 years before Pythagoras worked on the same problem.

The system Babylonians used is much different than what we use in modern maths today.  It is all written down in words and numbers, but has no mathematical symbols. Top mathematicians claim we can still learn a lot from ancient Babylonia today.

mathematic symbols



Related Topics



  • ancient = old
  • area = how big something is
  • broad = wide
  • calculation = when you use numbers to find out the value of something
  • century = a hundred years
  • claim = say that something is true
  • clay = heavy brown earth used for making pots  and bricks
  • complex = complicated
  • connect = link
  • current = today, right now
  • date back = are from, go back to
  • decipher = to find out the meaning of something or to change a code into normal language
  • diagonal = line that connects two corners of a square
  • discover = to find something for the first time
  • excavate = to dig carefully to find valuable ancient objects
  • exhibition = show of objects or paintings
  • mathematical symbol = minus, plus, multiplication signs etc..
  • Mesopotamia = area in western Asia around the Euphrates and Tigris rivers ; the world’s first cities were built here
  • rectangle = shape that has four straight sides, two of which are usually longer
  • related = linked
  • scholar = an intelligent person
  • solve = work out
  • square = geometrical object with four straight sides of the same length
  • survive = to continue to exist after a long time
  • tablet = flat piece of stone or clay with information on it
  • trench = a narrow hole that is dug into the ground