Trigonometry is a subject that haunts many students in their mathematics class, but a new study carried out by researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia suggests that ancient Babylonians developed a far superior and advanced form of trigonometry about 3,700 years back. The UNSW study, which is based on the analysis of an ancient Clay Tablet, claims that this advanced form of trigonometry was developed about 1,000 years earlier than its supposed invention by the Ancient Greeks.

Clay tablet Plimpton 322 was discovered in the early 1900s

The clay tablet Plimpton 322 was discovered in southern Iraq in the early 1900s. This tablet is believed to have been created between 1822 and 1762 BC and was found to be inscribed with numbers in cuneiform script. Plimpton 322 was discovered by famous archaeologist, antique dealer, and diplomat Edgar Banks. The ancient tablet has numbers written in 15 rows and four columns. In the 1980s, some researchers suggested that numbers written on Plimpton 322 show that ancient Babylonians had knowledge of trigonometry, but this idea was dismissed at that time.

People of Babylon developed trigonometry to design major buildings

The ancient city of Babylon came into existence during Mesopotamia civilization and became famous for its amazing Hanging Gardens.

According to Dr Daniel Mansfield of the School of Mathematics and Statistics in the UNSW Faculty of Science, the new study indicates that ancient Babylonians developed trigonometry to design major buildings, such as temples, palaces, canals or pyramids, in the city of Babylon. Dr Mansfield explains that the lines shown in the tablet represent “the ratios for a series of right-angled triangles.” Unlike modern-day trigonometry, Babylonians used a sexagesimal system with base 60 rather than base ten that is used in modern mathematics.

According to researchers, 60 is much easier to divide by three, and therefore calculations in the tablet were found to be far more accurate.

The UNSW study also presents a mathematical evidence to suggest that Plimpton 322 originally had 38 rows and four columns, but after its left-hand edge was broken, it was left with just 15 rows and four columns. The tablet is now kept in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia University in New York.

The detailed findings of the study have been published in journal Historia Mathematica.