The Berlin Papyrus: or when the Pythagorean Theorem was written 1000 years before the Birth of Pythagoras

Papyrus_Berlin_6619
Berlin Papyrus 6619

Is there a child on this planet who has gone to high school and not been taught the Pythagorean Theorem in some shape or form? I am not sure that many African children know that the so-called Pythagorean Theorem was written by their ancestors over 1000 years before Pythagoras was born, and on African soil. You heard me right: Pythagorean Theorem was written on the Berlin Papyrus or Berlin Papyrus 6619, a papyrus from ancient Egypt from the Middle Kingdom. This papyrus dates back from the second half of the 12th (c. 1990–1800 BC) or 13th Dynasty (c. 1800 BC – 1649 BC).

The papyrus is one of the primary sources of ancient Egyptian mathematical and medical knowledge, including the first known documentation concerning pregnancy test procedures. See our ancestors were already trying to test pregnancy! Amazing!

The first problem found on the Berlin Papyrus states, “You are told the area of a square of 100 square cubits is equal to that of two smaller squares. The side of one is ½ + ¼ the side of the other. What are the sides of the two unknown squares.” In modern terms, we would express this as x2 + y2 = 100 and x = (3/4)y, yielding to y = 8, and x = 6. Although the papyrus shows a solution using Egyptian multiplication and a somewhat different way of solving it today, it is understood that they most likely had a good knowledge of the Pythagorean Theorem. It is written in Hieratic script.

Next time you visit the Egyptian Museum Berlin, don’t just look at the bust of Queen Nefertiti which is next to the Berlin Papyrus and dwarfs it, but check it out also.

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