Ancient Egyptian Math

In ancient times, Egypt was a very large, complex nation. The ancient Egyptians did many things, but did they use Math? There are several pieces of evidence that the Egyptians, indeed used mathematics.

Most of our knowledge of Egyptian math comes from two mathematical papyri: The Rhind Papyrus, and the Moscow Papyrus. These documents contain many ancient Egyptian math problems. We also know the Egyptians used math just by looking at their architecture! The Great Pyramid at Giza is an incredible feat of engineering. This gives us one clear indication that society had reached a high level of achievement. Another indicator is that early hieroglyphic numerals can be found in temples, stone monuments, and vases.

Beginning with the basics, here is how the Egyptians used math: Number System: The Egyptians had a base 10 system of hieroglyphs for numerals. This means that they had separate symbols for one unit, one ten, one hundred, one thousand, one ten thousand, one hundred thousand, and one million. For example, to make up the number 159, fifteen symbols are required: 1 “hundred” symbol, 5 “ten” symbols, and 9 “unit” symbols. Over time the Egyptians came up with another form of numbers. These numbers were called “hieratic numerals”. These numerals were much more detailed, but more memorization was needed to remember all the symbols.

The Hieratic Numerals included the numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9,10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70,80, 90, 100, 200, 300, 400, 500, 600, 700, 800, 900, 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000, 6000, 7000, 8000, 9000. With this system, only a few symbols were needed to form large numbers. For example, the number 777 only uses 3 hieratic symbols, instead of 21 hieroglyphs. Adding and Subtracting: Adding and subtracting was a very simple process. All you would do was take the two numbers you were adding together and put the same symbols into the same group. The same process is used for subtraction. Multiplication: To multiply 2 numbers of any size, all you need to know is how to add. To multiply 2 numbers you would write them in a column form. Let’s multiply 36 and 21.

The Rhind Papyrus: The Rhind Papyrus is named after the British collector, Alexander Rhind, who found it in 1858. The Rhind Papyrus is located in the British Museum and contains mathematics problems and solutions. There are 84 math problems including simple equations, geometric series & simultaneous equations, determining, geometric series, and simple algebra found on the papyrus. The Moscow Papyrus: In the 19th century, an Egyptologist- Vladimir Golenishchev, found the papyrus and brought it to Russia. The Moscow papyrus contains only about 25 math problems. Of the 25 math problems, 7 of them are geometry. The papyrus is now located in the Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow The Ancient Egyptians obviously had a very good understanding of mathematics. They looked for patterns and found ways to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. They came up with many formulas and tricks that helped their societies become more advanced. They have contributed much to our modern math world. So, the lesson to learn from this? Don’t underestimate math. Math is in everything!

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