Pythagorean Theorem discovered on ancient tablet 1,000 years older than Pythagoras himself
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Featured Image Credit: DeAgostini/Getty Images / Wikimedia Commons/Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg)
If you studied math in high school, you probably came across Pythagoras at some point.
Whilst his formula is really useful for triangles, the ancient mathematician has become the bane of my students' lives.
Even more annoyingly, it turns out the Greek perhaps wasn't the one to first come up with the equation – which has been found on an ancient tablet that predates him by 1000 years!
For those who didn’t pass history class, Pythagoras is thought to have lived from 570 – 490 BCE and was renowned for being an expert in mathematics, astronomy, and music.
Whilst he was clearly a genius, it turns out he wasn’t the first to discover the theorem that still carries his name.
Instead, archaeologists have found the equation - a2 + b2 = c2 in case you forgot - on a Babylonian tablet, which was made nearly 1000 years before the philosopher was born.
Named IM 67118, the ancient text is thought to date back to 1770 BCE and could have even been used for teaching as it solves the length of a diagonal inside a rectangle.
Another earlier tablet, from 1800–1600 BCE, even shows a square with labelled triangles.
Having translated the ancient texts, experts have been able to prove that the civilisation was aware of advanced maths long before the fabled philosopher.
"The conclusion is inescapable. The Babylonians knew the relation between the length of the diagonal of a square and its side…”, explained mathematician Bruce Ratner in his paper.
If this was the case though, how did the clever calculation become so synonymous with Pythagoras?
Unlike his math though, there’s actually a surprisingly simple explanation.
During his lifetime, the scholar set up a school where he taught students mathematics, as well as other subjects.
Known as the Semicircle of Pythagoras, the group were educated largely by word of mouth with the knowledge then being wrongly attributed to the ancient academic.
With so few written resources, this continued throughout history until the equation became so closely associated with the Greek that people believed it was his.
Students would have also wanted to homage to their former teacher, which probably contributed to this epic misunderstanding.
“…out of respect for their leader, many of the discoveries made by the Pythagoreans were attributed to Pythagoras himself; this would account for the term ‘Pythagoras’ Theorem’,” added Ranter.
So next time you get this wrong in class, feel free to correct your teacher!