A recent study suggests that geometry was being used by the Ancient Babylonians at least 1,400 years earlier than previously thought.
The new study, published in Science, shows that the Ancient Babylonians were using geometrical calculations to track Jupiter across the night sky.
Previously, the origins of this technique had been traced to the 14th Century.
The study’s author, Prof. Mathieu Ossendrijver, from the Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany, said: “I wasn’t expecting this. It is completely fundamental to physics, and all branches of science use this method.”
Clay tablets engraved with their Cuneiform writing system have already shown these people were advanced in astronomy.
However, this latest research shows they were also way ahead when it came to maths.
It had been thought that complex geometry was first used by scholars in Oxford and Paris in Medieval times.
They used curves to trace the position and velocity of moving objects.
Now scientists believe the Babylonians developed this technique around 350 BC.
Prof. Mathieu Ossendrijver examined five Babylonian tablets that were excavated in the 19th Century, and which are now held in the British Museum’s archives.
The script reveals that they were using four-sided shapes, called trapezoids, to calculate when Jupiter would appear in the night sky, and also the speed and distance that it travelled.
Prof. Mathieu Ossendrijver said that there was evidence that the Greeks used a “more straightforward” form geometry, which dealt with the spatial relationships between the Earth and the planets rather than the concepts of time and velocity.