Dogs and Maths

8 Dec 2010

At www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,732654,00.html 'Egyptian dog bones could help solve canine conundrum'. Scientists are trying to work out how the wolf evolved into 400 breeds of dog - and they have turned their attention on Egypt and the cult of Anubis, the Jackal god. Thousands of mummified dogs (as well as jackals, foxes, and hyenas) were placed in what is a huge cave. Other cemeteries exist of other cult animals - such as cats, snakes, baboons, mice, fish, crocodiles and bulls. The dogs were actually sacrifices made to Anubis and victims were specially bred for the purpose. Reliefs and wall paintings suggest the Egyptians played a major role in developing different breeds - over a long period of time. Old Kingdom pharaohs hunted with dogs that looked like greyhounds and dogs with black and white spots that resemble Dalmatians are recorded from dynasty 6. In the New Kingdom a variety of smaller dogs were depicted - as well as brawny hunting varieties. Mastiffs were imported from Assyria and crossed with domestic breeds.

On the subject of Egypt, a piece at www.nytimes.com December 7th claims some modern math puzzles have a counterpart in ancient Egypt, including the 'I met a man with seven wives and with seven sacks containing seven cats who each had seven kittens ... etc'. The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus contains a puzzle of sevens that bear an uncanny likeness to the riddle above - but has mice and barley rather than wives and sacks. The Egyptians had an economic system run by absentee landowners and people were paid in units of grain. In order for that to be fair an exact weights and measures system was necessary. The Rhind Papyrus also contains geometrical computations of the shape of pyramids and the volume of different shaped granaries. The Moscow Papyrus, from the Middle Kingdom, has methods to measure ship's parts and the area of triangles, or the quality of beer.