Errors, Mistakes and Evidence for a Counting Device

Part of the Why the Sciences of the Ancient World Matter book series (WSAWM, volume 4)


The purpose of this chapter is to explore how numerical discrepancies in texts can be exploited in order to explain how the numbers and measurement values in a text were produced. Four questions are introduced to explore the mathematics involved in the construction of each economic text: Is there any discrepancy in the text? If there is, what is its nature? Can this discrepancy or a similar discrepancy be found in other texts? Can this discrepancy be linked to a mathematical practice? Finally, what can this discrepancy tell us about the text’s construction? To examine the strength of these questions, this chapter considers several economic texts, concentrating on one economic text in particular, YBC 04224, in order to show that an abacus existed in the Old Babylonian period to carry out basic addition with the metrological systems introduced in Chap.  2. The present chapter highlights the distinction between mistakes and errors proposed in Chap.  1 and goes on to explore mistakes.

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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Berlin Center for the History of KnowledgeMax Planck Institute for the History of ScienceBerlinGermany

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