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Written Mathematical Traditions in Ancient Mesopotamia Knowledge, ignorance, and reasonable guesses

By Jens Høyrup

Abstract

Writing, as well as various mathematical techniques, were created in proto-literate Uruk in order to serve accounting, and Mesopotamian mathematics as we know it was always expressed in writing. In so far, mathematics generically regarded was always part of the generic written tradition. However, once we move away from the generic perspective, things become much less easy. If we look at basic numeracy from Uruk IV until Ur III, it is possible to point to continuity and thus to a “tradition”, and also if we look at place-value practical computation from Ur III onward – but already the relation of the latter tradition to type of writing after the Old Babylonian period is not well elucidated by the sources. Much worse, however, is the situation if we consider the sophisticated mathematics created during the Old Babylonian period. Its connection to the school institution and the new literate style of the period is indubitable; but we find no continuation similar to that descending from Old Babylonian beginning

Year: 2011
OAI identifier: oai:CiteSeerX.psu:10.1.1.905.6086
Provided by: CiteSeerX
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