Egyptian Mathematics in the BM

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

I am going to begin my Egyptian visit to the British Museum with the limestone game-board in the form of a coiled snake used for the game called “mehen” (2890-2686 BC). The body of the coiled snake is divided into rectangular spaces but the number of these spaces is not important for the game.

Game-boards in the form of coiled snakes are known from the Early Dynastic period whengames became a regular item of tomb equipment. Several examples were discovered in the excavation of the Second-Dinasty tomb of King Khasekhemwy at Abydos. The game for which the snake-board was used was called mehen and although the exact method of play is not known, later representations show that it involved two players. The game-pieces consisted of spherical stone marbles and small figures of lions and lionesses usually made of bone or ivory.

The other popular game in Ancient Egypt was the ‘senet’ and there is one ivory sene board with a drawer for storing the gaming pieces with the glazed gaming pieces. This second board is in the special exhibition dedicated to the tomb-chapel of Nebamun (1350 BC):

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

The secnond mathematicl object found in the British Museum is this sandstone stela of the Egyptian Viceroy of Kush, Merymose, who served under Pharaoh Amenhotep III (c.1400 BC). A hieroglyphic text describes his campaign against the Nubians of Ibhet:

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

The hieroglyphic text is full of numbers and figures:

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Other hieroglyphic numbers are found in the limestone relief of Rahotep (c.2600 BC) which was fixed in the offering-chapel of a brick mastaba tomb.

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

The relief shows Rahotep seated before offerings which are detailed in a formal list on the right of the slab and all these offerings are accompanied of the number of them. We can see the ‘lotus’ for the thousands…

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

and a lot of examples of units, tens and hundreds:

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

It’s also interesting this bone identifying label from an item of funerary equipment (3100 BC). The front of the label bears the name of Queen Neithhotep and on the back is the numeral 135:

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Finally, the limestone false door stela of Niankhre (2450 BC) from Saqqara which comes from the mastaba-tomb of the superintendant of the hairdressers of the Palace Niankhre. You can see the number 4.000 in the top of the stela:

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

LocationBritish Museum in London (map)

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