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Babylonian maths

The mathematical questions in Babylonian cuneiform tablets tend to take this sort of form:

I have multiplied length and width to get the surface; I have added the excess of length over width; result 183. I have added the length and the width; result 27. Give length, width, surface.' This is in effect a pair of simultaneous equations: xy + x - y = 183 and x + y = 27. But though the principle behind the question is algebraic, the Babylonian student can perhaps rely on the answer being in whole numbers. If so, trial and error will soon lead him to a length of 15, a width of 12 and a surface of 180.

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