Date: 3/29/96 at 17:35:31 From: Don Coleman Subject: Egyptians Dear Dr. Math, Annie Farretti, a fifth grade student at Meadowthorpe Elementary School in Lexington, Kentucky, has asked me a question that I cannot answer. Can you? Why did the Egyptians use a special symbol for the fraction 2/3? (See Burton's "History of Mathematics", Wm. C. Brown (1995), p. 37. ISBN 0-697-16089-0) I could make guesses such as "It came up so often that they made up a new symbol," and other made-up reasons, but she would like to have something that sounds a bit more scholarly. I hope you can help her. If you can, I will pass it along to her. Thanks Don Coleman Mathematics Dept, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY
Date: 4/1/96 at 2:22:57 From: Doctor Jodi Subject: Re: Egyptians Hi there Don! This sounds like a great question. The St. Andrew's math history site has some information on Babylonian and Egyptian Mathematics at http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/HistTopics/Babylonian_and_Egyptian.html The site includes references to a few books on this topic: References: 1. A Aaboe, Episodes from the Early History of Mathematics (1964). 2. R J Gillings, Mathematics in the Time of the Pharaohs (Cambridge, MA., 1982). 3. G J Toomer, Mathematics and Astronomy, in J R Harris (ed.), The Legacy of Egypt (Oxford, 1971), 27-54. 4. O Neugebauer and A Sachs, Mathematical Cuneiform Texts (New Haven, CT., 1945). 5. A B Chace, L S Bull, H P Manning and R C Archibald, The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus (Oberlin, Ohio, 1927-29). 6. J Hoyrup, Babylonian mathematics, in I Grattan-Guinness (ed.), Companion Encyclopedia of the History and Philosophy of the Mathematical Sciences (London, 1994), 21-29. 7. C S Roero, Egyptian mathematics, in I Grattan-Guinness (ed.), Companion Encyclopedia of the History and Philosophy of the Mathematical Sciences (London, 1994), 30-45. 8. J Friberg, Methods and traditions of Babylonian mathematics. Plimpton 322, Pythagorean triples, and the Babylonian triangle parameter equations, Historia Mathematica 8 (1981), 277-318. Unfortunately, I don't have access to a mathematical library right now (since I'm in Chile) but perhaps you can find the answer in one of these books. Let us know what you find out! -Doctor Jodi, The Math Forum Check out our web site! http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
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