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La multiplication babylonienne : la part non écrite du calcul

Abstract : Certain kinds of calculation errors found in Babylonian texts, dating either from the Old Babylonian period or the more recent Seleucid period, recur and are characteristic in the use of numbers with more than five sexagesimal positions. These errors might give clues about the multiplication process of such numbers. Numbers of a large size would have been cut into two pieces, each of which was then multiplied separately, and the pieces recombined by addition. This method brings to light a limitation to five digits in the multiplication process, which might have been induced by the use of some kind of a counting instrument. The instrument possibly depended on the five fingers of the hand, either in its origin, concept or operation. The persistent and often enigmatic occurrence of the word ''hand'' in the Sumerian vocabulary for numeration are worth looking into in order to substantiate this hypothesis.
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Submitted on : Wednesday, August 31, 2011 - 11:52:53 AM
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  • HAL Id : halshs-00618008, version 1


Christine Proust. La multiplication babylonienne : la part non écrite du calcul. Revue d'Histoire des Mathématiques, Society Math De France, 2001, 6, pp.293-303. ⟨halshs-00618008⟩



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