Science & Tech

Your Facebook friends have probably been sharing this graphic, but here's why it's wrong

This image, which claims to show the origins of our numerical system, has been widely shared on social media in the past week.

The graphic claims "our present method of writing figures is based on an early Arabic geometric design..."

"Where each figure contains its own number of corners or angles, for instance the first contains one angle, the third has three angles, the seventh has seven angles and so on."

It shows primitive-looking versions of our current numbers with a seemingly obvious explanation of why they are the shape they are.

But like all things on the internet - if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Professor Jeremy Gray, a British mathematician who specialises in the history of the subject, told "It’s nonsense."

Some clues in the original image give it away. Firstly, it seems unlikely that anyone would add on those extra lines on the extremely loopy 9, and as one commenter on Snopes, the debunking website, points out: "And the 5. It just keeps spiralling until 'Wheyhey! Prophecy fulfilled'."

And as Prof Gray points out, the numbers in the viral graphic are all rectangular, as opposed to the cursive typography that features in early Arabic and Brahmic script.

It also looks like it’s the sort of thing you’d carve on stone, not write on parchment, and frankly it’s ugly.

  • Prof Gray
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