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I'm wondering if anyone would know anything about Egyptian mathematics in a prehistorical setting. I've been reading mixed answers, with Egyptians using base 10 or base 12, (interestingly, without them using zero sometimes, which goes on to complicate things.

My question is what base the ancient Egyptians used? How did they come to using it? Did they in fact have the concept zero expressed? How has it affected modern mathematics/society as a whole (if it has)?


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You might like to read this history. Regards –  Amzoti Feb 4 '13 at 5:34

1 Answer 1

Egyptians used a base-10 system, but it was not a positional system. They had symbols for 1, 10, 100, etc. (I don't know what their upper bound was).

A simple but good exposition can be found here.

The system falls in line with their hieroglyph-writing system. I don't know how they came to use either this number system or hieroglyphics in general.

As for its impact: it also happens to be that Egyptians wrote fractions as a sum of unit fractions. So $\frac{3}{4}$ would be written as $\frac{1}{2} + \frac{1}{4}$. I don't know why this was the case either. But in Struik's History of Mathematics, he says that this notation was one of the two dominant notations for writing fractions well into the Middle Ages.

Today, we refer to these as Egyptian Fractions, and they appear occasionally in recreational mathematics or number theory.

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protected by Asaf Karagila Dec 17 '13 at 21:30

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