chronology, accompanied by many references, is in A. Kuhrt,
The Ancient Near East c.3000-330 BC
, Routledge, 1995, pp. 8-72.
Third Millennium Mathematics
Many people are aware of the earliest mathematical artifacts, the tokens of the Near East, andequally well-known is the flourishing of mathematics in the Old Babylonian period. Theintervening period is much less well-known, and yet this crucial third millennium witnessed thedevelopment of abstract numbers and the arrival of the famous sexagesimal place valuesystem. This section of the site gives a brief overview of third millennium mathematics. Fromsome places and times, we have a great abundance of tablets and are able to build up a detailed picture of mathematical practices; at others the archaeological record is sparse and we shall passin silence over great passages of time about which we know nothing.Most of the sites in Mesopotamia yielding good third millennium tablets are found in thesouthern region, in Sumer, although one important site, Jemdet Nasr, is further north. It is believed that this southern region, containing such cities as Ur and Uruk, was the most developedarea at the time, but how much this conclusion could be challenged by new archaeologicalevidence is unclear. Certainly the current excavations of Hamoukar in the far north could provideimportant new information and the standard view of the Uruk expansion in the fourth millenniumseems to be undergoing some revisions which will doubtless affect our view of the subsequent periods (see, for example,Algaze (1993),Stein (1999)andVan de Mieroop (1997)). We restrict
our attention here to core Mesopotamia and say nothing about the important sources from Ebla tothe northwest (seeArchi (1989),Friberg (1986)
) and Elam in the southeast (Damerow andEnglund (1989)).
Chronology: Summary chronology of the Third Millennium.
Archaic Mathematics: Emergence of mathematics in late Fourth Millennium.
Bibliography This section is largely based on a talk I gave at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society for History and Philosophy of Mathematics in June 2000, and the paper that appeared in thesubsequent
Tokens: the origin of mathematics