Twelve (a dozen), 24(hours in a day), 60 (seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour), 360 (radial  degrees of a complete circle)  are just  few of the relationships based on the number 12.

How and where  did this relationship occur, and why did they not start with a system of tens.  Today much of  our and England’s systems are inexorably mixed with this old 12 system of  the Sumerians.

However, most of the rest of the world use the metric (10-based) system.

Why did the English (and we of course) not  convert to the metric system when all the others did? 

The English initiated  the Industrial Revolution which was well under way there by 1800.  The Paris meeting of 1875  purpose was to establish a common worldwide number system. 

By that time England’s industrialization was well along  which would have made it costly or them to convert.

Returning to the 12 system:  We can’t be  sure  why the Sumerians used the “12” system but one suggested answer seems plausible.  Those ancients  were not  familiar with fractions.  So when one had to divide  up a quantity they noted that 12 was divisible by three, four and six whereas 10 was divisible by only two and five.  

Who were these Sumarians,  the inventors of the  12 system and numerous other seminal things?   (Sumerians  that is, not the biblical “good Samaritans”). 

Until a few  hundred years  ago the world knew nothing of the Sumerians. Then some writing on clay tablets surfaced in Iraq and subsequent investigations turned up thousands of these clay tablets. 

It is ironic that we now know far more about the daily lives of Sumerians than we do about Egyptians the  major reason being that the Egyptians wrote on papyrus (a form of paper)which quickly deteriorated whereas the Sumerians wrote on clay tablets which were  quite durable.   

The Sumerians  lived in Iraq which at that time was very fertile.

The  land was  irrigated  by the Tigris and Euphrates  rivers. They were pretty much contemporaneous with the  Egyptians.

Then had  no stone so their buildings were  beautifully  constructed  of mud brick that, of course, deteriorated over time which is why we knew nothing  of their existence.

Besides their numbering  system they invented a host of other things. Of major  importance was their invention of  writing (cuneiform).

It  was  one of those momentous advances in  civilization. So good was  their system that it was in international use throughout the middle east for nearly 2000 years. 

Theodore  Theodorsen


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