Egyptian Fractions

Egyptians used only unit fractions, that is, fractions with a numerator of 1.
3
as unsimplified. The Egyptians would
5
3
1 1
3
write as  which is a sum of unit fractions that is equivalent to .
5
2 10
5

Egyptians saw fractions such as

In hieroglyphic script the fraction was given by placing a symbol for ro over
an integer. Since ro is at the same time a smallest unit for grain -- a mouthful
of grain, the symbol is a mouth.

For example, the fraction 1/12 in hieroglyphic is below which uses the
symbol for 10 and two strokes for the integer 2.

The Two Key Rules
The two rules that Egyptians used and always followed are:
1) Use only unit fractions
2) Do not repeat any unit fraction.

Try these out. Change these fractions into sums of unit fractions. Please
show your work and explain your method.
1)

3
8

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2)

4
7

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3)

3
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11

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Have you found a method that works every time? Is it efficient? Is there a
better way? What could it be?
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4)

3
7

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5)

4
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15

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6)

7
8

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Extensions:

The Less Important Rules
Egyptian Fractions usually followed three other rules.
These rules are:
3) Use only even denominators, if possible.
4) Keep the denominators as small as possible.
5) Use as few unit fractions as possible.
See if you can change your answers from above to fit all five rules. The last
three are more flexible than the first two, and it may not be possible to
satisfy all five at the same time.
Show all work below. If one rule won’t work with the other four explain
why.
1)

5
9

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2)

7
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11

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3)

13
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15

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4)

3
7

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Have you found a method that works every time? Is it efficient? Is there a
better way? What could it be?
________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________
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