When you think back to your
history classes in which countries from around the world were discussed in
great detail, you most likely cannot recall all the material covered.
But can you remember what you learned about ancient Egypt?
Many would probably answer with the Nile River, King Tutankhamen, the
great pyramids and sphinxes. While
these are important part of Egyptian culture, there is yet another area of
Egyptian history that aided in the development of civilization.
This contribution is the form of picture writing known as
name hieroglyphic comes from the Greek word for “sacred carving or
inscription.” It is estimated
that Egyptian hieroglyphics appeared about 5,000 years ago.
The most ancient hieroglyphics date from the end of the fourth
millennium BC found on slabs of slate in chapels and/or tombs.
While these early writings cannot be read today, there is reason to
believe that these forms are based on the same system of later hieroglyphics.
This system of writing used small pictures to represent different
words, actions, or ideas. As in
other languages, Egyptian words were made up of sounds--both consonants and
vowels. But vowels were
constantly omitted and ignored. Hieroglyphics
could be written in either lines or columns and could read from right to left
or from left to right. This no doubt would make reading the text extremely
difficult and writing a time consuming process. The system was eventually simplified to an easier version
known as hieratic. [Click here
to see examples of hieroglyphic writing].
signs and/or pictures of Egyptian hieroglyphics can be divided into two
classes, phonograms and ideograms. Phonograms
were used to represent the sounds of the language.
Ideograms represented an object or idea connected with the object.
While words could be written using either one form or the other, most
used a combination of the two.
Now that we have a better
understanding on the history of hieroglyphics, let’s explore how this system
of writing was used for mathematical purposes.
Organized mathematics in Egypt has been dated to the third millennium
BC. It was dominated by
arithmetic, with an emphasis on geometry.
Early Egyptian hieroglyphic mathematics included several methods used
today such as decimal description and binary calculations.
Generally, Egyptians used the fraction 2/3 used with the sum of unit
fractions (1/n) to express all other fractions.
This allowed them to solve all arithmetic problems involving fractions
as well as some algebra problems. Early
Egyptian mathematics appeared more sophisticated than previously assumed. Through their work with unit fractions, the early Egyptians
showed an awareness of prime and composite numbers, the “Sieve of
Eratosthenes,” and the “perfectness” of the number six. [Click here
to learn more about Egyptian mathematics].
Egyptian mathematics consisted of
a decimal system, which used seven different symbols.
As these examples show,
working with hieroglyphics was a very tedious and exhausting procedure.
While it appears addition and subtraction was relatively easy,
multiplication and division seems nearly impossible. In researching material for this project, I gained a better
understanding concerning the history and development of the Egyptian writing
system known as hieroglyphics. It
is my hope that readers will also understand more clearly this unique style of
writing that dates back over 5,000 years.
Perhaps in seeing the difficulty involved in simple multiplication and
division problems, one will appreciate his writing and numbering system as
to take a test on Egyptian math].
Ancient Egypt Site: Language http://www.geocities.com/~amenhotep/language/
Babylonian and Egyptian http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/HistTopics/Babylonian_and_Egyptian.html
Egyptian Hieroglyphs http://www.torstar.com/rom/egypt/
Egypt Math http://www.college-term-papers.com/TermPapers/Mathematics/Egyptian_Math.shtml
Egyptian mathematics http://www.eyelid.co.uk/numbers.htm
Egyptian mathematics test http://www.eyelid.co.uk/maths2.htm
Hieroglyphic Writing http://www.crystalinks.com/hieroglyphicwriting.html
Mayan, and Chinese Characters http://www.innerx.net/personal/tsmith/eghier.html