The Rhind papyrus, which dates to 1650 B.C., is one of several precocious papyri and other artifacts displaying Egyptian mathematical ingenuity. There is the Moscow Mathematical Papyrus (held at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow), the Egyptian Mathematical Leather Roll (which along with the Rhind papyrus is housed at the British Museum) and the Akhmim Wooden Tablets (at the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo).
They include methods of measuring a ship’s mast and rudder, calculating the volume of cylinders and truncated pyramids, dividing grain quantities into fractions and verifying how much bread to exchange for beer. They even compute a circle’s area using an early approximation of pi. (They use 256/81, about 3.16, instead of pi’s value of 3.14159….)
It all goes to show that making puzzles is “the most ancient of all instincts,” said Marcel Danesi, a puzzle expert and anthropology professor at the University of Toronto, who calls documents like the Rhind papyrus “the first puzzle books in history.”