BEST OF 2014 // #83: The Bamboo Calculator

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After cleaning a set of 21 ancient Chinese bamboo strips of mold, researchers were stunned to learn that the strips were not blank: they had a decimal multiplication table on it.  In fact, its better than ones used currently in the West, able to multiple fractions.  Also:  it’s the oldest such table ever found

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The strips are part of a 2,500-piece collection, which dates back to around 300 BC, before China was a unified country.

The discovery was announced in January, with a mix of paleogeographers and historians making the presentation at Tsinghua University.  The strips have calligraphy on them, which forms a matrix of rows and columns with numbers from 1/2 to 90.  Where they intersect, a multiplication product is formed,

They may have been used by business people, or even bureaucrats to quickly figure out wages or taxes.  No other ancient civilization had a method to multiply numbers in this fashion.

“It is an amazing discovery.” –  Wen Xing, paleogeographer, Dartmouth College.

There’s 99 more stories from 2014.  Check out the Best of 2014 series here

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