Math E-320: Spring 2011
Teaching Math with a Historical Perspective
Mathematics E-320: Clay experiments
Instructor: Oliver Knill
Office: SciCtr 434


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
Math E320| Oliver Knill | Spring 2011 | Extension School | Harvard University