Monday, February 11, 2013

Ancient Egyptian computing

What Is Computing ?
When people hear the word computing, they usually think about using computers. But computing has another meaning. Computing involves using numbers to count, gather information, and solve problems.  Computing involves mathematics—the science of numbers. Math has many branches and many practical applications. It is used in almost every area of science, medicine, business, construction, and manufacturing. Computing probably began shortly after the first humans appeared on Earth.
The ancient Egyptians used computing technology for many projects. They used addition and subtraction to keep track of taxes and business deals. They used surveying to measure farmers’ fields. They measured time with sundials and other types of clocks. They used engineering techniques such as measuring right angles (angles that are perpendicular, measuring 90 degrees) to build giant pyramids and temples.

Picture Numbers
Mention hieroglyphics, and most people think of the Egyptian system of picture writing. But hieroglyphics was also picture numbering. In the Egyptian system, a single line stood for 1, two lines for 2, three lines for 3, and so on up to 9. An archlike symbol stood for 10. A spiral represented 100.
The number 1,000 was represented by a lotus plant. A picture of an index finger meant 10,000. The picture for 100,000 was a tadpole or a frog. A man sitting with arms upraised stood for 1,000,000.
To write the number 1,109, an Egyptian scribe would draw a lotus plant (1,000), a spiral (100), and nine lines (9). One finger, one lotus, and two spirals meant 11,200. A man and a tadpole together stood for 1,100,000.

Ancient Text Books
In the 1800s, archaeologists discovered two textbooks used in schools in ancient Egypt. Both books were long scrolls of papyrus, a kind of paper made from the papyrus plant. The books had been used to teach scribes. These professionals were trained to read, write, and perform equations in ancient times.
The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus is our most important source of information about Egyptian math. It was named for Alexander Henry Rhind, a Scottish archaeologist. He obtained the scroll near the Egyptian city of Thebes in 1858. The scroll is about 18 feet (5.5 meters) long when it’s unrolled.
An Egyptian scribe, Ahmes the Moonborn, wrote the papyrus around 1650 b.c. He called it “insight into all that exists, knowledge of all secrets.” The papyrus explained how to add, subtract, and do other computations with whole numbers and fractions. Most ancient Egyptians were not educated.
They wouldn’t have understood the scroll, which explains why its contents were considered “secrets.” But the equations would be a snap for most modern sixth-grade students.
Ahmes also included more advanced math in his textbook, including algebra. This branch of math uses symbols to stand for numbers. One simple algebra equation is 6 + x = 7. The answer is x = 1. Another algebra equation is 45 – x = 40. The answer: x = 5.
The Egyptians used algebra to solve practical problems. For instance, suppose one thousand stonecutters were building a pyramid. Each stonecutter ate three loaves of bread a day. How much bread would be needed to feed the stonecutters for ten days? The equation: x = 1,000 3 10.
The Rhind Papyrus also included brainteasers and word problems. See if you can solve the following one, just as Egyptian students had to:
Seven houses contain seven cats. Each cat kills seven mice. Each mouse had eaten seven ears of grain. Each ear of grain would have produced seven measures of wheat. What is the total of all these items together? See the answer below[1].

Source: Micheal Woods and Mary B. Woods, Ancient Computing Technology, 2011

[1] 19,607 items


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