Tablet YBC 7289

Some of the earliest known examples of recorded information come from Mesopotamia, which roughly corresponds to modern-day Iraq, and date from around the middle of the fourth millennium BC. The writing is called cuneiform, which refers to the fact that marks were made in wet clay with a wedge-shaped stylus.

A particularly famous mathematical example of cuneiform is the clay tablet known as YBC 7289.

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This tablet is inscribed with a set of numbers using the Babylonian sexagesimal (base-60) system. In this system, an angled symbol, <, represents the value 10 and a vertical symbol, |, represents the value 1. For example, the value 30 is written (roughly) like this: <<<. This value can be seen along the top-left edge of YBC 7289.

YBC 7289

The markings across the center of YBC 7289 consist of four digits: |, <<||||, <<<<<|, and <. Historians have suggested that these markings represent an estimate of the length of the diagonal of a unit square, which has a true value of  (to eight decimal places). The decimal interpretation of the sexagesimal digits is, which is amazingly close to the true value, considering that YBC 7289 has been dated to around 1600 BC.

What we are going to do with this ancient clay tablet is to treat it as information that needs to be stored electronically

The choice of a clay tablet for recording the information on YBC 7289 was obviously a good one in terms of the durability of the storage medium. Very few electronic media today have an expected lifetime of several thousand years. However, electronic media do have many other advantages.

The most obvious advantage of an electronic medium is that it is very easy to make copies. The curators in charge of YBC 7289 would no doubt love to be able to make identical copies of such a precious artifact, but truly identical copies are only really possible for electronic information.

This leads us to the problem of how we produce an electronic record of the tablet YBC 7289.

What data would be stored for this?

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License.

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