The area of study known as the history of mathematics is primarily an investigation into the origin of new discoveries in mathematics and, to a lesser extent, an investigation into the standard mathematical methods and notation of the past.

Before the modern age and the worldwide spread of knowledge, written examples of new mathematical developments have come to light only in a few locales. The most ancient mathematical texts available are Plimpton 322 (Babylonian mathematics ca. 1900 BC), the Moscow Mathematical Papyrus (Egyptian mathematics ca. 1850 BC), the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus (Egyptian mathematics ca. 1650 BC), and the Shulba Sutras (Indian mathematics ca. 800 BC). All of these texts concern the so-called Pythagorean theorem, which seems to be the most ancient and widespread mathematical development after basic arithmetic and geometry.

Egyptian and Babylonian mathematics were then further developed in Greek and Hellenistic mathematics, which is generally considered to be one of the most important for greatly expanding both the method and the subject matter of mathematics. The mathematics developed in these ancient civilizations were then further developed and greatly expanded in Islamic mathematics. Many Greek and Arabic texts on mathematics were then translated into Latin in medieval Europe and further developed there.

One striking feature of the history of ancient and medieval mathematics is that bursts of mathematical development were often followed by centuries of stagnation. Beginning in Renaissance Italy in the 16th century, new mathematical developments, interacting with new scientific discoveries, were made at an ever increasing pace, and this continues to the present day.

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