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Nothing New Under The Sun - Agricultural Valuers At Work 4000 Years Ago

Clay tablets can last longer than parchment, papyrus and paper, keeping records of contracts, debts and now of the sale of part of a field in central Iraq four millennia ago.

Dr Daniel Mansfield of the University of New South Wales has shown that, with the legal details, the Old Babylonian tablet Si.427 records the right angled triangles used to measure the areas and give more exact rectangles than in earlier tablet to get the boundaries right, towards 1900BC and over a thousand years before Pythagoras. With even earlier tables of rectangles, it is also the earliest recorded use of geometry, bringing perhaps a new science to practical use. The tablet mentions Sin-bel-apli who was elsewhere in dispute with a wealthy female landowner over valuable date palms on their shared boundary: a dispute that had to be resolved by surveying.

An Old Babylonian poem tells the need for good boundaries then as now:

“When I go to apportion a field, I can apportion the pieces,

so that when wronged men have a quarrel, I soothe their hearts and [...].

Brother will be at peace with brother,”

Note – This is reported in an article with a picture of the round tablet in the academic journal Foundations of Science The tablet is in the Istanbul Museum of Archaeology.

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