Over 2,300 years old - world's earliest decimal calculation tool

The 21 bamboo slips were crafted around 305BC. When arranged together as a multiplication table, they can do multiplication and division of any two whole numbers under 100 and numbers containing the fraction 0.5.
The 21 bamboo slips were crafted around 305BC. When arranged together as a multiplication table, they can do multiplication and division of any two whole numbers under 100 and numbers containing the fraction 0.5. PHOTO: CHINA GLOBAL TV NETWORK'S TWITTER
The 21 bamboo slips were crafted around 305BC. When arranged together as a multiplication table, they can do multiplication and division of any two whole numbers under 100 and numbers containing the fraction 0.5.
The 21 bamboo slips were crafted around 305BC. When arranged together as a multiplication table, they can do multiplication and division of any two whole numbers under 100 and numbers containing the fraction 0.5.PHOTO: CHINA GLOBAL TV NETWORK'S TWITTER

BEIJING • A set of bamboo slips dating back more than 2,300 years has been officially recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's earliest decimal calculation tool.

"The significance is that it's decimal, not duo-decimal as seen in other countries. Decimal did not appear in Europe until the 15th century," said Professor Li Xueqin, head of the Research and Conservation Centre for Excavated Texts of Tsinghua University in Beijing.

The 21 slips, crafted around 305BC during the Warring States period, are each 43.5cm long and 1.2cm 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 through. 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 Prof 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 University acquired a rare collection of 2,500 slip bamboo items from the late Warring States period, which had been smuggled out of China, including the multiplication table.

XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2017, with the headline 'Over 2,300 years old - world's earliest decimal calculation tool'. Print Edition | Subscribe