Article ID: CBB000770899

La multiplication babylonienne: la part non écrite du calcul (2000)


Certain kinds of calculation errors found in Babylonian texts, dating either from the Old Babylonian period or the more recent Seleucid period, recur and are characteristic in the use of numbers with more than five sexagesimal positions. These errors might give clues about the multiplication process of such numbers. Numbers of a large size would have been cut into two pieces, each of which was then multiplied separately, and the pieces recombined by addition. This method brings to light a limitation to five digits in the multiplication process, which might have been induced by the use of some kind of a counting instrument. The instrument possibly depended on the five fingers of the hand, either in its origin, concept or operation. The persistent and often enigmatic occurrence of the word ``hand'' in the Sumerian vocabulary for numeration are worth looking into in order to substantiate this hypothesis.


Description Explores how errors in calcuations with numbers of more than five sexagesimal places might reveal the use of some kind of a counting instrument based on the five digits of a person's hand.

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Authors & Contributors
Steele, John M.
Swerdlow, Noel M.
Muroi, Kazuo
Brack-Bernsen, Lis
Grasshoff, Gerd
Reiner, Erica
Sciamvs: Sources and Commentaries in Exact Sciences
Historia Scientiarum: International Journal of the History of Science Society of Japan
Archive for History of Exact Sciences
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Annals of Science: The History of Science and Technology
Aestimatio: Critical Reviews in the History of Science
MIT Press
Princeton University Press
de Gruyter
Oxford University Press
Institute for the History of Science, Polish Academy of Science
Terminology and nomenclature
Tablets; papyri
Theon of Alexandria
Hipparchos of Rhodes
Time Periods
Middle and Near East
Babylon (extinct city)

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