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Science (Latin, scientia, from scire, “to know”), term used in its broadest sense to denote systematized knowledge in any field, but usually applied to the organization of objectively verifiable sense experience. The pursuit of knowledge in this context is known as pure science, to distinguish it from applied science, which is the search for practical uses of scientific knowledge, and from technology, through which applications are realized. For additional information, see separate articles on most of the sciences mentioned.


Efforts to systematize knowledge can be traced back to prehistoric times, through the designs that Palaeolithic people painted on the walls of caves, through numerical records that were carved in bone or stone, and through artefacts surviving from Neolithic civilizations. The oldest written records of protoscientific investigations come from Mesopotamian cultures; lists of astronomical observations, chemical substances, and disease symptoms, as well as a variety of mathematical tables, were inscribed in cuneiform characters on clay tablets. Other tablets dating from about 2000 bc show that the Babylonians had knowledge of Pythagoras' Theorem, solved quadratic equations, and developed a sexagesimal system of measurement (based on the number 60) from which modern time and angle units stem. (see Number Systems; Numerals.)

From almost the same period, papyrus documents have been discovered in the Nile Valley, containing information on the treatment of wounds and diseases, on the distribution of bread and beer, and on working out the volume of a portion of a pyramid. Some of the present-day units of length can be traced back to Egyptian prototypes, and the calendar in common use today is the indirect result of pre-Hellenic astronomical observations.


Scientific knowledge in Egypt and Mesopotamia was chiefly of a practical nature, with little rational...
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