Banks, who was also a diplomat and roving archaeologist, worked for a time at the American consul in Baghdad. His global exploits are thought to have inspired the fictional character Indiana Jones, the protagonist of the famous film franchise.
Banks is credited with first recognizing the importance of Plimpton 322, which he sold to New York publisher George Arthur Plimpton. Plimpton housed the artifact in his private collection. Upon Plimpton’s death in 1936, it was donated to Columbia University, where it has remained ever since.
Researchers have puzzled over the tablet’s meaning throughout the decades, but it was never fully deciphered — until now.
Daniel Mansfield of the University of New South Wales School of Mathematics and Statistics and his colleague Norman Wildberger have just reported the conclusions of their two-year analysis of the artifact. In a paper published in the journal Historia Mathematica, they conclude that the inscriptions on the tablet form the world’s oldest trigonometric table.
Previously it was thought that the Greek astronomer Hipparchus of Nicaea (120–190 BC) invented trigonometry, or the study of triangles. It now appears the Babylonians beat him to this achievement by more than 1,000 years.
What’s more, the trigonometry is “of an ancient and unusual kind that predates the modern notion of the angle,” Mansfield said.
He first read about Plimpton 322 by chance when preparing material for a first-year mathematics class. He and his colleague decided to examine the tablet more closely after realizing that it had parallels with a form of trigonometry explained in Wildberger’s book, “Divine Proportions: Rational Trigonometry to Universal Geometry.” Rational trigonometry often relies upon simple fractions to solve problems.
Mansfield said Wildberger’s approach was “essential” to unlocking its secrets because it allowed the team to begin thinking about a kind of trigonometry that might predate the invention of angles.
“I recall the moment that we thought there might be applications of this way of thinking,” he continued. “This is a new way of thinking about fundamental concepts that have been unchanged for hundreds of years, and it felt like staring into the abyss.”
Read more: https://www.seeker.com/culture/history/ancient-babylonian-tablet-identified-as-the-worlds-oldest-trigonometry-table