With The Finding Of The Ishango Bone 25,000 Years Ago, Basic Arithmetic Came From Africa

Ishango bone. Image via Wikimedia Commons/Claire H.


The Ishango bone was originally assumed to be 9,000 years old, however improved scientific study performed by researchers during a revaluation exercise revealed that the bone instrument was more than 20,000 years old. The Ishango bone is a dark brown bone instrument with a sharp quartz piece connected to one end. It is thought to have been in use during the Middle Stone Age.

The archaeological discoveries were uncovered in 1960 by Belgian scholar Jean de Heinzelin de Braucourt during an excavation mission in the Belgian Congo. The Ishango bone was discovered in the Semliki River, according to the African American Registry. The bone was discovered near a fishing village near the Nile River’s headwaters, encased in layers of a volcanic eruption.

The Ishango bone demonstrates how early Africans pioneered basic mathematics 25,000 years ago. Because of the carved three columns found on the length of the bone tool, the Ishango bone was initially considered to be a tally stick.

Some academics believed that the carvings on the bone tool went beyond its mathematical purposes. According to the theory, the three asymmetrical columns were designed to describe a numerical system.

The central column begins with three notches and then doubles to six notches, repeating for the number four and then doubling to eight notches, then reversing for the number ten, which is divided into five. Scientists that have thoroughly examined the artifact claim that its randomness serves a central purpose that points to multiplication and division by two.

Given that the numbers in both the left and right columns are all odd numbers, prehistoric man may have employed the Ishango bone for counting and meeting their mathematical needs. The numbers in the left column, on the other hand, are prime numbers between 10 and 20, while those in the right column are 10 + 1, 10 1, 20 + 1, and 20 1. When the numbers in each side column are added together, they total 60, whereas the numbers in the centre column total 48.

In his book “How Mathematics Happened: The First 50,000 Years,” author Peter Rudman asserted that the concept of prime numbers could have originated from the concept of division, predating some 10,000 years, up until 500 years ago, when early men’s understanding of prime numbers deepened.

He claimed that the scientific community has yet to explain why a tally of something should show multiples of two, prime numbers between 10 and 20, and some numbers that are almost multiples of 10.

According to researcher Alexander Marshack, who has conducted extensive research on the Ishango bone, the numerals on the bone tool could be an attempt by early man to track the lunar calendar, though this has been challenged by other scientists who argue that the depiction does not support the calendar’s structure.

Claudia Zaslavsky, another researcher, contended that the Ishango bone was created by a female who wanted to calculate her menstrual cycle in relation to the lunar calendar. The Ishango bone is now on display in the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels, Belgium.

The Ishango bone inspired the creation of National Pi Day, which has been observed annually since 1988. It is a symbol for the mathematical constant (pi). Pi Day was made official by the United States House of Representatives in 2009.

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