The Oldest Math Problems... Where Are Stored and How Old?
Rhind Mathematical Papyrus. British Museum
The Rhind Papyrus is named after the Scottish Egyptologist
A. Henry Rhind, who purchased it in Luxor in 1858. The papyrus, a scroll about
6 metres long and 1/3 of a metre wide, was written around 1650 BC by the scribe
Ahmes who was copying a document which is 200 years older. When it arrived at
the British Museum, it was shorter and in 2 pieces with a central part missing.
The eightyseven problems on the Rhind deal with a large variety of subjects
including methods of multiplying and dividing, the use of unit fractions, simple
equations, the use of false position, calculations of areas and volumes, progressions
and many other applications.
When describing the Rhind, it is important to note that is
not merely a collection of maths problems or even an ancient maths book with
explanations, general information and tables. It encompasses both of these but
with its own added style. The Egyptians' use of exclusively unit fractions (fractions
with 1 in the numerator) was one of the document's trade marks, and this necessitated
a table in the first section of 2 divided by odd numbers ranging from 3 to 101.
Multiplications and divisions were performed by a succession of doubling operations,
based on the fact that any number can be represented as a sum of powers of 2.
The Moscow Mathematical Papyrus is an ancient Egyptian mathematical papyrus,
also called the Golenischev Mathematical Papyrus, after its first owner, Egyptologist
Vladimir Golenishchev. Golenichev bought the papyrus in 1892 or 1893 in Thebes.
It later entered the collection of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in
Moscow, where it remains today.
Based on the palaeography and orthography of the hieratic text, the text was
most likely written down in the 13th dynasty and based on older material probably
dating to the Twelfth dynasty of Egypt, roughly 1850 BC. Approximately 18 feet
long and varying between 1½ and 3 inches wide, its format was divided into 25
problems with solutions by the Soviet Orientalist Vasily Vasilievich Struve
in 1930 It is a wellknown mathematical papyri along with the Rhind Mathematical
Papyrus. The Moscow Mathematical Papyrus is older than the Rhind Mathematical
Papyrus, while the latter is the larger of the two.
