Ancient bamboo slips for calculation enter world records book

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Beijing, April 23 (IANS) A set of bamboo slips dating back more than 2,300 years were officially recognised on Sunday by the Guinness World Records as the world’s earliest decimal calculation tool.

“The significance is that it’s decimal, not duodecimal as seen in other countries. Decimal did not appear in Europe until the 15th century,” Xinhua news agency quoted head of the Research and Conservation Centre for Excavated Texts of Beijing-based Tsinghua University Li Xueqin as saying.

The 21 slips, crafted around 305 BC during the Warring States period, are each 43.5 centimetres long and 1.2 centimetres wide.

When arranged together as a multiplication table, the slips can perform multiplication and division of any two whole numbers under 100 and numbers containing the fraction 0.5.

The slips have inscribed numbers and holes, where threads used to go. A user would pull the threads corresponding to numbers needed to be calculated in order to see the result.

The owner of the slips remains unknown, according to Li. “Our guess is that the tool might be used in trade, or measurement of land in the kingdom of Chu.”

In July 2008, Tsinghua acquired a rare collection of 2,500 bamboo slip items from the late Warring States period, which had been smuggled out of China, including the multiplication table.

–IANS

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