Egyptian Unit Fractions

Nowadays, we usually write non-integer numbers either as fractions (2/7) or decimals (0.285714). The floating point representation used in computers is another representation very similar to decimals. But the ancient Egyptians (as far as we can tell from the documents now surviving) used a number system based on unit fractions: fractions with one in the numerator. This idea let them represent numbers like 1/7 easily enough; other numbers such as 2/7 were represented as sums of unit fractions (e.g. 2/7 = 1/4 +1/28). Further, the same fraction could not be used twice (so 2/7 = 1/7 + 1/7 is not allowed). We call a formula representing a sum of distinct unit fractions an Egyptian fraction.

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