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Exploring Tessellations

Page history last edited by Patti McFeely 14 years, 10 months ago

    Shaped by History


     A tessellation is a pattern of one or more two-dimensional shapes that fit together with no gaps or overlaps. The word tessellation comes from the Latin tessella, which was a small stone or tile used in Roman mosaics. However, tessellations date back thousands of years to the time of the Sumerians (4000 B.C.). The early Sumerians constructed their tessellations out of clay and used them to decorate homes and temples. These tessellations eventually became part of the structure of their architecture.


     Since that time, tessellations have spread to many cultures including Egyptian, Arabian, Indian, Chinese, Roman, and Greek. To view examples of various cultural tessellations, check out these links. Feel free to add any further links of examples you may find during your exploration.


Egyptian Tilings and Patterns

Patterns from the Alhambra

Chinese Patterns

Greek Tilings

A Tiling from Pompeii



ornate wall on Alhambra Palace, Granada


     Note the repeating pattern on this wall of the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. This was a common decorative detail in Moorish architecture.




Shaping Your Own


     Today, artists such as M.C. Escher have taken tessellations to a new level. To create a tessellation, you must focus on two elements: shape and color. By sliding, flipping, and/or turning the shape, you can create a tessellation. But, lines and shapes aren't the only ways to cause optical illusions. Tessellations can look very different depending on how you color them.  Take some time to experiment with shape and color at Interactivate: Tessellate.


How would you like to create tessellations that look like these?


tessellation sample 1tessellation sample 2tessellation sample 3


Watch the video below for step-by-step instructions on how to create your own tessellation:



Shaping The World


 We are surrounded by shapes in our world. Can you identify these tessellations? See if you can find more and add them to our page for future visitors.



Britton, J. & Seymour, D. (1989). Introduction to Tessellations. Palo Alto, CA: Dale Seymour Publications. 
"Totally Tessellated" Retrieved on September 22, 2009 from http://library.thinkquest.org/16661/history/uses.html
Photo credits:
"Spider's web." Retrieved on September 22, 2009 from www.freedigitalphotos.net/image/s_spider-web.jpg
Soccer ball. Retrieved on September 22, 2009 from http://openclipart.org/media/files/flomar/6069
Honeycomb. Retrieved on September 22, 2009 from www.wisdomportal.com/Haikus/Number6inNature.html
Snake skin. Retrieved on September 22, 2009 from www.britannica.com/.../Close-up-of-snake-hide

Comments (1)

Amanda Dahl said

at 9:18 pm on Oct 25, 2009

yes I'm so glad you have posted this! I lost this after Dr. Christie's site went down.

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