Rounding in Mathematical and Economic Texts

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


This chapter sums up evidence for rounding numbers. Value and number approximation are shown to have been fostered, learned and reinforced in the elementary scribal education and in the different advanced scribal educations that are hypothesized throughout this volume. Rounding occurred for several reasons. Truncation could occur because each added value was limited based on the size of an abacus or some other counting device as seen in Chap.  6. Truncation could offset measurement inconsistencies, as explored in Chap.  7. Rounding could have simplified calculation with sexagesimal place value notation or, as seen in Chap.  8 in the case of calculation by non-regular numbers, it could even have made this calculation possible. In every instance, a probable or at least plausible logic is shown at play while rounding numbers. A third kind of error, systematic error, is also suggested, so that three kinds of errors existed in the texts: observational, conceptual and systematic errors. Scribes were aware of each kind of error and used rounding to offset these errors. Rounding was based on customs and practices that were put in place to deal with the uncertainties inherent in their systems of quantification and calculation so that scribes could administer the economy with limited risk and culpability.

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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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