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Rhind Mathematical Papyrus

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A portion of the Rhind Papyrus

The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus (RMP, also designate as: papyrus British Museum
10057, and pBM 10058), is named after Alexander Henry Rhind, a Scottish antiquarian,
who purchased the papyrus in 1858 in Luxor, Egypt; it was apparently found during
illegal excavations in or near the Ramesseum. The British Museum, where the papyrus is
now kept, acquired it in 1864 along with the Egyptian Mathematical Leather Roll, also
owned by Henry Rhind; there are a few small fragments held by the Brooklyn Museum in
New York. It is one of the two well-known Mathematical Papyri along with the Moscow
Mathematical Papyrus. The Rhind Papyrus is larger than the Moscow Mathematical
Papyrus, while the latter is older than the former. [1]

The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus dates to the Second Intermediate Period of Egypt and
the best example of Egyptian mathematics. It was copied by the scribe Ahmes (i.e.,
Ahmose; Ahmes is an older transcription favoured by historians of mathematics), from a
now-lost text from the reign of king Amenemhat III (12th dynasty). Written in the
hieratic script, this Egyptian manuscript is 33 cm tall and over 5 meters long, and was
first translated in the late 19th century.

In the opening paragraphs of the papyrus, Ahmes presents the papyrus as giving
“Accurate reckoning for inquiring into things, and the knowledge of all things,
mysteries...all secrets”. The papyrus has 84 problems with worked examples, written on
both sides. Taking up roughly one third of the manuscript is a 2 / n table which expresses
2 divided by the odd numbers from 5 to 101 in terms only of unit fractions. There are two
basic vulgar fraction methods used, one to convert 2/p and another to convert 2/pq vulgar
fractions to Egyptian fractions. The 2/p method was noted by F. Hultsch in 1895, and
confirmed by E.M. Bruins in 1945, commonly called the H-B method. The 2/pq method
consists of three methods, with two based on the Egyptian Mathematical Leather Roll and
the third factoring 2/95 into 1/5 x 2/19, with 2/19 converted by the H-B Method. Other
topics covered include arithmetic progressions, algebra, geometry, weights and measures,
business, and recreational diversions.

The RMP's 84 problems begin with 6 division by 10 problems, the central subject of the
Reisner Papyrus. There are 15 problems dealing with addition, and 18 algebra problems.
There are 15 algebra problems of the same type. They ask the reader to find x and a
fraction of x such that the sum of x and its fraction equals a given integer. Problem #24 is
the easiest, and asks the reader to solve this equation, x + 1/7x = 19. Ahmes, the author of
the RMP, worked the problem this way:

(8/7)x = 19, or x = 133/8 = 16 + 5/8,

with 133/8 being the initial vulgar fraction find 16 as the quotient and 5/8 as the
remainder term. Ahmes converted 5/8 to an Egyptian fraction series by (4 + 1)/8 = 1/2 +
1/8, making his final quotient plus remainder based answer x = 16 + 1/2 + 1/8.

Each of the RMP's other 14 algebra problems produced increasingly difficult vulgar
fractions. Yet, all were easily converted to an optimal (short and small last term) Egyptian
fraction series.

Two arithmetical progressions (A.P.) were solved, one being RMP 64. The method of
solution followed the method defined in the Kahun Papyrus. The problem solved sharing
10 hekats of barley, between 10 men, by a difference of 1/8th of a hekat finding 1 7/16 as
the largest term.

The second A.P. was RMP 40, the problem divided 100 loaves of bread between five men
such that the smallest two shares (12 1/2) were 1/7 of the largest three shares' sum (87
1/2). The problem asked Ahmes to find the shares for each man, which he did without
finding the difference (9 1/6) or the largest term (38 1/3). All five shares 38 1/3, 29 1/6,
20, 10 2/3 1/6, and 1 1/3) were calculated by first finding the five terms from a
proportional A.P. that summed to 60. The median and the smallest term, x1, were used to
find the differential and each term. Ahmes then multiplied each term by 1 2/3 to obtain
the sum to 100 A.P. terms. In reproducing the problem in modern algebra, Ahmes also
found the sum of the first two terms by solving x + 7x = 60.

The RMP continues with 5 hekat division problems from the Akhmim Wooden Tablet, 15
problems similar to ones from the Moscow Mathematical Papyrus, 23 problems from
practical weights and measures, especially the hekat, and three problems from
recreational diversion subjects, the last the famous multiple of 7 riddle, written in the
Medieval era as, "Going to St. Ives".