Mathematician’s Work Rediscovered in Remote Scottish Ruins
La Satira News Service
Researchers with the University of Punxsutawney’s College of Mathematical Archaeology announced the discovery of a site that sheds new insight into a lost golden age of Scottish mathematical studies.
Professors Abner “Ab” Bacchus and Adam McAdam announced the new findings on New Year’s Eve, the anniversary of the site’s discovery.
The discovery was initially made by accident after a fishing expedition encountered a storm and was forced ashore at the mouth of the Syne River, on the western coast of Scotland. There, members of the expedition discovered the ruins of a village that had been buried under water and sand for more than three hundred years.
Initial investigations proved to be inconclusive, with speculation ranging from an ancient settlement by the Beaker people to the secret post-Culloden hideout of Bonnie Prince Charlie. The only distinctive clues were unusual quantities of pens, parchment, and abacuses, as well as a primitive calculating instrument called Napier’s bones.
“Clearly this wasn’t your typical fishing village,” said Professor Bacchus in his presentation on the discovery.
The investigation had a breakthrough when archaeologists discovered a wall safe containing a small number of written records that miraculously survived the inundation. The records pointed to the activity of Alda Quaintans, a mathematical professor of the medieval University of Mull, who envisioned Scotland as becoming a scientific powerhouse. Professor Quaintans proposed a colony of researchers to promote the practical application of science and math, as well as to compete with the work of Sir Isaac Newton in England. (The emphasis on practical application seems to have been to differentiate the new institution from his own university, which was mainly dedicated–as one might perhaps expect–to purely philosophical research.)
Permission for the colony was ultimately granted, and a location was selected at the mouth of the Syne River. The site was developed by diverting the Syne River through a shorter course to the sea. This move was controversial among the existing population, who continued to reminisce about the longer course, referred to since as the Auld Lang Syne.
Meanwhile, the best scientific minds in Scotland were carefully recruited for the project, with scholars representing a variety of disciplines. Dr. Quaintans also hired a small army of support staff to look after his scientists and ensure they would not be distracted by mundane matters.
The colony was only half-way through its first research project–an actuarial analysis of the risk of investment in the Darien scheme–when a prolonged rain upstream caused the site to become inundated by raging floodwaters, resulting in the loss of the colony and all its inhabitants, including Dr. Quaintans. It seems the designers had under-designed the capacity of the new river channel, owing to a mathematical error regarding the quantity of water that the channel would conceivably be required to accommodate.
The full impact of the disaster naturally reverberated through the country, but was missed by most historians. For example, decades after the event, Scottish poet Robert Burns famously asked the question:
Should Alda Quaintans be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should Alda Quantans be forgot
And Auld Lang Syne?
These lyrics were subsequently misunderstood by historians, linguists, and English audiences and taken completely out of context.
According to Professors Bacchus and McAdam, further research remains to be done to identify other, previously-undetected effects of the disaster on the national literature.