THE RARE BOOK AND
MANUSCRIPT LIBRARY
OF COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY

Treasures


2 Cuneiform tablet ca. 1900-1600 B.C.
(Plimpton 322)
Cuneiform writing is believed to have originated with the Sumerians in Mesopotamia six thousand years ago and was used until the first century B.C. The writing was created by pressing the slanted edge of a stylus into soft clay tablets which were then baked to preserve the inscriptions. This clay tablet, in Old Babylonian script, is unique in confirming that the inhabitants of Mesopotamia employed in their calculations Pythagorean number theory, as much as thirteen hundred years before Pythagoras lived, to calculate the size of the sides of a right triangle whose sides are integers. From this tablet we learn that Greek mathematics, particularly astronomy, was indebted to the Babylonian science which preceded it. The tablet is part of a collection of six hundred tablets embracing the Sumerian, Old Babylonian, Kassite and Neo-Babylonian periods, 2100-300 B.C.
Gift of George A. Plimpton

Collections and Treasures