The University of Montana
Department of Mathematical Sciences

Technical report #4/2012

Where are the Plans?- A socio-critical and architectural survey of early Egyptian Mathematics

Gabriel Johnson & Bharath Sriraman
The University of Montana

Rachel Saltzstein
Volcano Vista High School, Albuquerque, New Mexico


The majority of the mathematics taught in secondary schools was invented in the ancient world, and this fact opens the curriculum up to organic opportunities to teach mathematics from a socio critical historical perspective. Teachers and education theorists have observed a fascination on the part of students of all ages with the culture of ancient Egypt, which makes a study of the mathematics of ancient Egypt a particularly attractive topic for the public school mathematics classroom. How is one to approach this topic given the controversy surrounding the Egyptians and their place in the history of mathematics? This controversy is discussed by Joseph (1991) but most explicitly examined in Bernal’s (1987) still controversial, multivolume work Black Athena, in which he defends his thesis that there are two competing models of the genesis of Ancient Greek language and mathematics, one that is Eurocentric and the other, Bernal’s (1987) “revised ancient model,” that is essentially Egyptian and Semitic. Bernal (1987) presents evidence that the Eurocentric model emerged during the late 17th through 19th centuries and was motivated by skin color racism that developed during the era of African slavery and European and American imperialism. In this chapter we examine early Egyptian mathematics from a socio-critical as well as an mathematical viewpoint by calculating quantities and relating it to feasibility construction problems in engineering and architecture in modern times.

Keywords: Black Athena; Egyptian mathematics; History of mathematics; Architecture and Engineering problems

AMS Subject Classification: 01, 97

Full preprint unavailable due to publisher embargo. Excerpt from Chapter to appear in: B. Sriraman (Ed). (2012) Crossroads in the History of Mathematics and Mathematics Education. Information Age Publishing, Charlotte, NC. Pdf (467 KB)