The Beginning of Maths History

The history of mathematics is actually a long and involved story. Indeed many degree courses have specialised lectures on just this subject, however it is possible to identify the highlights especially if you focus on a specific section of the timeline. The story reaches backs in to the very annals of human history from before records began. Indeed it is not long after human dialect develops, it really is safe to assume that people start counting – and that fingers and thumbs provide nature’s abacus. The decimal system is actually no accident. Ten has been the basis of the majority of counting methods in history.

When any type of record is really needed, marks in a branch or a stone are the typical solution. In the very first enduring traces of a counting system, numbers are developed with a repeated sign for each group of 10 followed by another repeated sign for 1.

Math can not easily develop up until an efficient mathematical system is in place. This is a late appearance in the story of maths, calling for both the principle of place value and the concept of zero.

Because of this, the early history of mathematics is that of geometry and algebra. At their rudimentary levels the two are simply mirror images of one another. A number expressed as two squared can likewise be described as the area of a square with 2 as the span of each side. Similarly 2 cubed is the volume of a cube with 2 as the length of each dimension. The subject is obviously important and perhaps the application of geometry can be visualized more easily than any other branch. If you look at any plans, engineering drawings or even those diagrams on the ‘tactics board’ from the Match of the Day stream on your computer, then it’s simple to see the various geometric patterns develop.

Babylon and Egypt: from 1750 BC

The very first surviving examples of geometrical and algebraic calculations derive from Babylon and Egypt in about 1750 BC

Of the 2 Babylon is much more advanced, with quite complex algebraic problems featuring on cuneiform tablets. A common Babylonian maths question will certainly be expressed in geometrical terms, but the nature of its solution is essentially algebraic (see a Babylonian maths question). Due to the fact that the numerical system is awkward, with a foundation of 60, calculation depends largely on tables (sums already worked out, along with the answer given for future use), and numerous such tables endure on the tablets.

Egyptian mathematics is much less advanced than that of Babylon; but an entire scroll on the subject endures. Referred to as the Rhind papyrus, it was actually copied from earlier sources by the scribe Ahmes in about 1550 BC. It incorporates brainteasers for example, problem 24: – What is the size of the heap if the heap and one seventh of the heap amount to 19?

The papyrus does introduce one essential element of algebra, in the usage of a basic algebraic symbol – within this case h or aha, meaning ‘quantity’ – for an unknown number.

Pythagoras: 6th century BC.

Ancient mathematics has actually reached the modern world largely through the work of Greeks in the classic period, building on the Babylonian custom. A leading figure among the early Greek mathematicians is Pythagoras.

Above is the solution of the famous Rhind Papyrus problem as demonstrated on YouTube. In around 529 BC Pythagoras moves from Greece to a Greek colony at Crotona, in the heel of Italy. There he establishes a philosophical sect based upon the view that numbers are the underlying and changeless truth of the universe. He and his supporters soon make exactly the sort of breakthroughs to bolster this numerical faith.

The Pythagoreans can show, for instance, that musical notes vary in accordance with the duration of a vibrating string; whatever length of string a lute player starts with, if it is doubled the note consistently falls by precisely an octave (still the basis of the scale in music today).

The devotees of Pythagoras are also able to prove that whatever the shape of a triangle, its three angles always add up to the sum of two right angles (180 degrees).

The most famous equation in classical mathematics is known still as the Pythagorean theorem: in any kind of right-angle triangle the square of the longest side (the hypotenuse) is equal to the sum of the squares of the two other sides. It is actually unlikely that the proof of this goes back to Pythagoras himself. But the theorem is typical of the accomplishments of Greek mathematicians, with their primary passion in geometry.

This interest reaches its peak in the work compiled by Euclid in about 300 BC.

Further Reading:

There are some great Maths documentaries available online and from the world’s premier broadcasters.  Watch out for the History of Maths from the BBC, it’s not on the BBC iPlayer application at the moment but it’s repeated quite often and then added to the archive.  If you’re outside the UK then you can use this article to access – Watch UK TV Online – which shows how to use a VPN to hide your location and access from anywhere.