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
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