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Published byGrace Keating Modified over 2 years ago

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Babylonian Maths Make Your Own Clay Tablet

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Clay Tablets Look at the clay tablet on the right. Babylonian scribes wrote on clay tablets, not on paper. Why do you think they did this?

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To make your own clay tablet You will need: some play-dough, clay or plasticene a chopstick (or similar) with a square end – it has to be a square end, not a round one

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Babylonian numbers Press the square end of the chopstick into the clay. Twist it. You want a mark something like the left-hand one on the photo above or like one of the top set of marks drawn on the right. You have now made a Babylonian 1. If you dont like it, just rub it out with your thumb and try again.

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What do you think these numbers are? What do you notice about how they are arranged?

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Babylonian numbers This time, make a mark with your chopstick (still the square end) but turn it so it is at an angle of about 45 degrees. You should get a wedge shape, a bit like an arrow head. You want a mark something like the right-hand one on the photo above or like one of the two wedges drawn on the right. You have now made a Babylonian 10.

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What do you think these three numbers are? What do you notice about the way they are arranged this time?

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Base 60 The Babylonians worked in base 60. What do you know that is counted in 60s? What number base do we normally work in? Can you think of anything that isnt measured in lots of 10s or 60s?

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Base 60 What happens to our numbers when we get to 9 or 99 or 999? What would the equivalent numbers be in base 60? How do you think the Babylonians might have written 61? Hint: you dont need six lots of 10 – why not?

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