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Mathematics in Ancient Egypt

Philippe Cara

Department of Mathematics
http://www.vub.ac.be/DWIS

BEST Summerschool “Pyramids in the Cosmos”

VUB, 7th September 2001


1
The use of Mathematics in Ancient
Egypt

• Partitioning of fertile grounds


1
The use of Mathematics in Ancient
Egypt

• Partitioning of fertile grounds

• Construction of pyramids
1
The use of Mathematics in Ancient
Egypt

• Partitioning of fertile grounds

• Construction of pyramids

• Administration
1
The use of Mathematics in Ancient
Egypt

• Partitioning of fertile grounds

• Construction of pyramids

• Administration

• Calendar. . .
2
Sources

• Wrote mainly on papyrus


2
Sources

• Wrote mainly on papyrus

• Not suited for long conservation


2
Sources

• Wrote mainly on papyrus

• Not suited for long conservation

• Hieroglyphics and wall-paintings


2
Sources

• Wrote mainly on papyrus

• Not suited for long conservation

• Hieroglyphics and wall-paintings

• Babylonians had clay-tablets


2
Sources

• Wrote mainly on papyrus

• Not suited for long conservation

• Hieroglyphics and wall-paintings

• Babylonians had clay-tablets

• Mainly “real life” problems, no general methods!


3
Rhind papyrus
4

• 1650 BC

• Henry Rhind (1833–1863)

• 87 problems with answer

• Main source of information

• Tables with fractions

• Ahmes

• Leather Roll
5
6
Back of Rhind papyrus

2/5 = 1/3 + 1/15


2/7 = 1/4 + 1/28
2/9 = 1/6 + 1/18
2/11 = 1/6 + 1/66
2/13 = 1/8 + 1/52 + 1/104
2/15 = 1/10 + 1/30
..
2/101 = 1/101 + 1/202 + 1/303 + 1/606
7
Theorem

Every fraction can be written as a sum of unit


fractions.
7
Theorem

Every fraction can be written as a sum of unit


fractions.
Given p/q with p < q, we subtract the largest unit
fraction 1/n. Repeat till a unit fraction is left. . .
7
Theorem

Every fraction can be written as a sum of unit


fractions.
Given p/q with p < q, we subtract the largest unit
fraction 1/n. Repeat till a unit fraction is left. . .
p 1 np − q
− =
q n nq
7
Theorem

Every fraction can be written as a sum of unit


fractions.
Given p/q with p < q, we subtract the largest unit
fraction 1/n. Repeat till a unit fraction is left. . .
p 1 np − q
− =
q n nq
Suppose np − q > p then np − p > q or (n − 1)p > q
1 1 p
< 6
n n−1 q
8
Remark

There are many ways to write a fraction as sum of


unit fractions.

1 1 1
= +
n n + 1 n(n + 1)
9
Multiplication 1

7 × 22 =?
9
Multiplication 1

7 × 22 =?

1 7
✔ 2 14
✔ 4 28
8 56
✔ 16 112
22 154
10
Division

154 ÷ 7 =?
10
Division

154 ÷ 7 =?

1 7
2 14 ✔
4 28 ✔
8 56
16 112 ✔
22 154
11
Multiplication 2

5 + 7/8 × 12 + 2/3 =?
11
Multiplication 2

5 + 7/8 × 12 + 2/3 =?

✔ 1 12+2/3
2 25+1/3
✔ 4 50+2/3
✔ 1/2 6+1/3
✔ 1/4 3+1/6
✔ 1/8 1+1/2+1/12
5+7/8 99+1/2+1/4
12
Writing of numbers

• Decimal

• But not positional

1 10 100 1000 10000 100000 1000000

  ‰ Œ µ  ‹


  

= 275
 
‰ ‰  

µµµµµ ŒŒ    = 152023
12
Writing of numbers

• Decimal

• But not positional

1 10 100 1000 10000 100000 1000000

  ‰ Œ µ  ‹


  

= 275
 
‰ ‰  

µµµµµ ŒŒ    = 152023
No zero symbol needed!!
13
Moscow papyrus

• 1850 BC

• Golenischev

• 5 metres long, 8 cm high

• 25 problems

• Bad handwriting

• Volume of truncated pyramid

• Surface of half a sphere


14
Other papyri

• Reisner papyri (1880 BC)

• Kahun papyri (1800 BC)

• Rollin papyrus (1350 BC)

• Harris papyrus (1167 BC)


15
Mathematics used for building pyramids
=
GEOMETRY
16
Weights and measures

• 1 cubit = 52.3 cm

• Long distances: ropes with knots

• Shorter distance: ruler


17
Egyptian ruler

The cubit of King Amenhotep I (1559 – 1539 BC)


18
Other units for distances
• 1 palm = 1/7 of a cubit

• 1 finger = 1/4 of a palm

• 1 hayt = 1 khet = 100 cubits

• 1 remen = half the length of the diagonal


√ of a
square with side one cubit. That is 22 cubit.
Useful when measuring land areas.

• 1 double remen = 2 cubit.

• 1 aura = 1 setat = area of square with side 100


cubits, hence 10000 square cubits.
19
Weights or volumes

• 1 hekat = 1/30 of a cubic cubit of grain

• 1 hinu = 1/10 of a hekat

• 1 ro = 1/320 of a hekat

• Horus eye to write fractions of a hekat


20
Beer and Pesu

• 1 des = approx. half a liter

• The pesu is a unit for measuring the strength of


beer, bread or cakes.

• If one hekat of grain was used to make 5 des of


beer, it was said to have a pesu of 5.
20
Beer and Pesu

• 1 des = approx. half a liter

• The pesu is a unit for measuring the strength of


beer, bread or cakes.

• If one hekat of grain was used to make 5 des of


beer, it was said to have a pesu of 5.

• The less the pesu, the stronger the beer!!!


21
Rhind problem 76

If you want to trade 1000 des of beer of pesu


10 for beer of pesu 20, how many des do you
get?
22
Sekhed of a pyramid

is the inclination of any one of the four triangular


faces to the horizontal plane of its base.

h h

a/2

a
sekhed =
2h
In fact the sekhed is the cotangent of the slope α.
23
Rhind problem 57

The sekhed of a pyramid is 5 palms and 1


finger and the side is 140 cubit. What is the
height?
24
Sekheds of some well-known pyramids

Name Sekhed
Chephren, Ouserkaf 3/4 cubit
Neferirka-Re, Teti, Pepi 21 fingers
Cheops, Snofru 11/14 cubit
Neouser-Re 22 fingers
Sesostris 6/7 cubit
Amenemhat III 9/14 cubit
25
26
Pythagoras’ theorem

• The sum of the squares of the right angle


sides of a rectangular triangle is the square of
the remaining side.
c
b

a2 + b2 = c2 a
26
Pythagoras’ theorem

• The sum of the squares of the right angle


sides of a rectangular triangle is the square of
the remaining side.
c
b

a2 + b2 = c2 a

• If a triangle fulfills the above then it is rect-


angular.
27
Construction of right angles 1

p k0 p

k0 p k0 p
28
Property of a rectangle

• The diagonals of a rectangle meet eachother


halfway.
28
Property of a rectangle

• The diagonals of a rectangle meet eachother


halfway.

• If a quadrilateral fulfills the above then it is a


rectangle.
29
Construction of right angles 2
a

d
m a d

b m
c
b

R p R pa

a d a d

m m

R R

b pa b pa
30
Area of a triangle?

Rhind problem 49: Multiply half a side with the


other side.
30
Area of a triangle?

Rhind problem 49: Multiply half a side with the


other side. 










1/2 






















   
   

   
   

   
   

   
   

1/2 c









   

   

   
   

















b 

























   

a 



























    

   

   

    

    

    
    
31
Area of a quadrilateral?
b

a+c b+d
·
2 2
32
Rhind problem 48

d 2
A = (d − )
9
33
The area of a circle 1





 

 
33
The area of a circle 1

                
            
            
            
            
            
            
       
  
       

                


            
            
            
            
            
      

     
               
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The area of a circle 1

                
            
            
            
            
            
            
       
  
       

                


            
            
            
            
            
      

     
               
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The area of a circle 1

                
            
            
            
            
            
            
       
  
       

                


            
            
            
            
            
      

     
               
  
                  

  
                  

  
                  

  
                  

  
 

  

 

  
 

  
 

  
 

  
 

  
 

  
 

  
 

  

 

  
 

  
 

  
 

  

 

  
 

  
 

  
 

  
 

  
 

  
 

  
 

  
 

  
 

  
 

  

 

  
 

  
 

  
 

  
 

  

 
34
The number π

Definition: The ratio of the area of a circle and the


square of its radius is denoted by π.
34
The number π

Definition: The ratio of the area of a circle and the


square of its radius is denoted by π.

d2 64 2
π ≈ d
4 81
34
The number π

Definition: The ratio of the area of a circle and the


square of its radius is denoted by π.

d2 64 2
π ≈ d
4 81
64 256
π≈4 = = 3.1604938 . . .
81 81
34
The number π

Definition: The ratio of the area of a circle and the


square of its radius is denoted by π.

d2 64 2
π ≈ d
4 81
64 256
π≈4 = = 3.1604938 . . .
81 81

• Babylonians: π ≈ 3.125

• Bible: π ≈ 3
35
Area of a basket

Moscow problem 10: Find the area of a basket


d

with given “mouth” d.


They use the formula
64 2
A=2 d
81
35
Area of a basket

Moscow problem 10: Find the area of a basket


d

with given “mouth” d.


They use the formula
64 2
A=2 d
81
This is
256 2
A=2 r
81
35
Area of a basket

Moscow problem 10: Find the area of a basket


d

with given “mouth” d.


They use the formula
64 2
A=2 d
81
This is
256 2
A=2 r
81
256
and since π ≈ 81 we find
A = 2πr2
36
Volume of a truncated pyramid

1
V = h(a2 + ab + b2)
3
37
How did they do it?

b h’

b
h

a a
38
Mysticism. . .

• The ratio of twice the side to the height of the


Great pyramid is π.

• In the dimensions of the Great pyramid are en-


coded: the radius of th earth, the density of earth,
the distance between earth and sun, . . .

• All important dates of human history


39
40
Charles Piazzi Smyth

• 1819–1900

• Astronomer

• Professor at university of Edinburgh

• Fellow of the Royal Society


41
Verification

William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853–1942)


42
Other pyramidologists

• Charles Lagrange

• David Davison

• Georges Barbarin

• Robert Bauval

•...