Math E-320: Spring 2011

Teaching Math with a Historical Perspective

Mathematics E-320: Clay experiments

Instructor: Oliver Knill

Office: SciCtr 434

Email: knill@math.harvard.edu

On January 31, we did some writing on Clay tablets. Here are photos from the tablets from each group. The task had been to write 1000 in Sumerian mathematical notation, which uses the sexagesimal system. We had to find integers a,b such that a 60 + b = 1000 and then write this number. During the process we wondered, what are natural arrangements for the 60 integers. This was not taught. The class experimented with different arrangements as you can see. The solution was 1000 = (16,40) and would lead to something like

<||| <<< ||| <We also noticed that with a square stick, one can write pretty fast, tilting the stick down or to the side to write the cuneiforms in the same way as 30000 years ago.

Sexagesimal Numerals: Source: Wikipedia

Please send questions and comments to knill@math.harvard.edu