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The Egyptians are known for being ahead of their time in comparison to some civilisations that came after them. This free course, Egyptian mathematics, looks at how the Egyptians solved mathematical problems in everyday life and the technology they used. An understanding of this area has only been possible following the translation of the Rosetta Stone.
After studying this unit you should be able to:
- know something about how hieroglyphs were used to represent numbers and the nature of the problems that have survived;
- understand that Egyptian calculation was fundamentally additive. Operations such as doubling and halving being used for multiplication and division;
- appreciate the advanced understanding of mathematics in Ancient Egypt in relation to the manipulation of fractions;
- consider some views of the mathematics of Ancient Egypt in relation to that of the Babylonians.
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For many centuries, ancient Egypt was seen as the source of wisdom and knowledge, about mathematics as well as other things. There was a long classical Greek tradition to this effect, and in later centuries the indecipherability of the hieroglyphs did nothing to dispel this belief. But since the early nineteenth century, when the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone by Young and Champollion enabled rapid progress to be made in translating extant Egyptian texts, the picture has changed to reveal a civilisation more pragmatic and down-to-earth. In this unit, we shall investigate what we now know of Egyptian mathematics, and how we know it.
This unit is from our archive and is an adapted extract from Topics in the history of mathematics (MA290) which is no longer taught by The Open University. If you want to study formally with us, you may wish to explore other courses we offer in.
This free course includes adapted extracts from an Open University course which is no longer available to new students. If you found this interesting you could explore more free Mathematics courses or view the range of currently available OU Mathematics courses.
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Monday, 13th June 2011
Last updated on: Thursday, 11th October 2012
- Creative-Commons: The Open University is proud to release this free course under a Creative Commons licence. However, any third-party materials featured within it are used with permission and are not ours to give away. These materials are not subject to the Creative Commons licence. See terms and conditions. Full details can be found in the Acknowledgements and our FAQs section.
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