No calculators, just a brush and papyrus

David Reimer, associate professor of mathematics and statistics, presented “The Strange Math of the Egyptians” at the College on Nov 14.

The lecture focused on re-evaluating how modern mathematicians view ancient Egyptian mathematics.

Reimer, who is currently writing his own textbook, has studied the history of math going back to simple calculations by cavemen, but ancient Egypt “is really a favorite subject,” he said.

“I maintain that Egyptian math is faster than our math,” Reimer argued. “I can perform Egyptian math nearly twice as fast at my best.”

Reimer backed this statement with a brief history on ancient Egypt and how its math was created. Two texts on ancient Egyptian math currently exist, the Rhind and Moscow papyri, however, half of the Moscow papyrus has disappeared.

“We don’t know how advanced the Egyptians were,” he said.

Most historians maintain that the ancient Babylonians were more advanced in mathematics than the Egyptians. However, since there are about 1,000 Babylonian texts on mathematics and only two on Egyptian mathematics, the comparison is “a little unfair,” Reimer said.

Reimer then explained the basics of ancient Egyptian math, which included arithmetic progressions and ways to ascertain the area of a circle and volume of a truncated pyramid.

The Egyptian method of determining the area of a circle was “better than most (other ancient civilizations’)” and their method of determining the volume of a truncated pyramid was “a good accomplishment” of the time since it was exact, Reimer said.

In ancient Egypt, all mathematics could be easily understood since all the concepts (addition, multiplication and division) were essentially directly connected to one another.

“It was very interesting,” Jessica Miller, junior special education and math major, said of the lecture. “It was very informative and (Reimer) definitely has a lot of information on this.”

At the end of the lecture, Reimer claimed that the overall goal of his presentation was to maintain that “just because something looks different to us . doesn’t mean that it’s primitive or awkward.”