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Saudi Aramco World

The Old Babylonian period (ca. 2000–1600

BCE

) was a time of intense scribal activity; we know the most about

scribal education. Much of what we know today about Mesopotamian mathematics comes from the cuneiform tools and textbooks

that instructors used to teach their students, and the provision of practical mathematical and metrological skills necessary for

scribal bureaucracy. Mesopotamian mathematics used the sexagesimal system of notation, with calculations based on the number

60 rather than the base-10 system that we use today. The concept or notation of zero was not established until much later by math-

ematicians of the early Islamic world.

Mathematical tables inscribed on a clay cylinder from the Old Babylonian period, ca. 2000–1600

BCE

, Iraq. (13.9 h. x 11.2

cm. dia. / 5½ x 4½

"

) This object is one of the earliest known collections of mathematical tables written on a cylinder. It was suspended

with a cord or held upright on a post that passed through the hole at the center. The scribe could spin the cylinder to the column he

wanted to read. The text begins with a table of reciprocals and continues with 37 separate multiplication tables.

Robert Zimmer joined the University of Chicago in 1977 and became the

University’s 13th president in 2006. He is known for establishing the University of

Chicago’s “Zimmer Program,” which involves understanding of symmetry and the

relationship of geometry and topology to certain algebraic structures.

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