Computation in Early Mesopotamia

  • Duncan J. MelvilleEmail author
Part of the Mathematics Education in the Digital Era book series (MEDE, volume 11)


The history of Mesopotamian mathematics begins around 3300 BCE with the development of written systems for recording the control and flow of goods and other economic resources such as land. Numeration was bound up with measurement and was a collection of concrete systems. One of the key developments over the subsequent thousand years or so was the gradual rationalization of these complex concrete systems and the consequent emergence of an abstract conception of number and techniques of computation that applied regardless of metrological category. Throughout their history Mesopotamian scribes organized knowledge in the form of lists. In mathematics there were also lists, but along with lists came metrological and mathematical tables, two-dimensional arrays of data that organized information both vertically and horizontally. A key example is tables giving lists of lengths of sides of square or rectangular fields, along with their areas; the problem of computation of areas remained a constant concern throughout the period covered here. In this chapter, we cover the development of Mesopotamian computation from the archaic period up to the edge of the emergence of the fully abstract sexagesimal computational system for which they are renowned, tracing, as far as can be seen with currently available sources, the long developmental process.


Mesopotamian mathematics Sargonic mathematics Early Dynastic Archaic Computation Mathematical tables 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.St. Lawrence UniversityCantonUSA

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