World’s Oldest Decimal Times Table Found In China

oldest_times_tableThe world’s oldest decimal times table has been discovered in China. The table is 2,300 years old, composed of 21 bamboo strips that were found mixed amongst hundreds of other strips that should eventually reveal more than 60 ancient texts. Older multiplication tables are known, but they’re from the Middle East and use base-60.

The table is read exactly like modern multiplication tables, except right-to-left and not the left-to-right that is typical in the West. The numbers start at 0.5, and then contain the integers from 1-9, and then multiples of 10 until it reaches 90. While this may seem like just another graph out of a basic maths text, back when it was made it was an advanced calculator. Government bureaucrats likely used the scroll to work out taxes and measure land and goods.

Written multiplication in China at the time is normally found in sentence form, most commonly used for rote memorization.

Finding something like this so far in the past gives people that think deeply about that kind of thing a new perspective on the capabilities of society at the time. You can read more about the discovery over on Nature.com.

Photo: Research and Conservation Center for Excavated Texts, Tsinghua University

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