History of Ancient African Math

Africa is considered as the cradle of both basic and advanced mathematics. Several archaeologists and historians have proposed that ancient Africans were making use of geometry, numerals and algebra in their daily lives. It is believed that mathematics went on to spread throughout the world after the continuous migrations out of Africa starting in 30,000 B.C. and a chain of attacks by Asians and Europeans.

Discovered in the Lebombo Mountains in Swaziland, the Lebombo bone is recognized as the oldest mathematical device. Scholars speculated that the instrument is at least 35,000 years old.

The Lebombo bone is a baboon fibula with 29 distinctive markings which indicate that it could have been used to either monitor the lunar and menstrual cycles or solely a measuring stick. Interestingly enough, the use of baboon bones as a mathematical instrument has been constant across the continent which led many experts to suggest that Africans always deemed the baboon as holy and connected with time, moon and math.

The Ishango bone

Another baboon fibula known as the Ishango bone was also unearthed in the present-day The Democratic Republic of Congo. The Ishango bone which is currently preserved in the Museum of Natural Sciences in Brussels is believed to be 20,000 years old.

Unlike the Lebombo bone, the Ishango bone is not purely a tally stick or a measuring device but rather it is considered to be the first evidence of calculator in the world. The bone is filled with inscriptions which are plainly disassociated into groups of markings that characterize a number of quantities.

It was believed to be among the remnants of a small society which lived in this region of Africa. People living in the area subsequently died after a volcanic eruption.

Other than the Lebombo and Ishango bones, the Moscow Papyrus is also one of the world’s earliest examples of the use of algebra and geometry by Ancient Africans. The papyrus which is now located in the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow was written in hieratic in Kemet during the 13th dynasty.

Interesting Facts about Ancient African Math

  • Sankore which is one of the oldest universities in the world is consists of libraries full of manuscripts that were written in Ajami language. Most of the manuscripts have been found to be astronomical and mathematical in nature.
  • The earliest mathematical games in the world took place in African regions that are located south of the Sahara.
  • The mathematical system used by ancient Ethiopians is identical to what modern computers use today.
  • All adults of a community in Sahara had the mathematical understanding to build their own houses.
  • The Rhind Mathematical Papyrus which dates back in 1650 B.C. contains 20 arithmetic problems and 20 algebraic problems.
  • Geometry in steady structures is apparent across the region of south Sahara, in compositions of stylish illustrations on baskets, houses, pipes, gourds and other daily items.
  • The Yoruba people of Nigeria had their own counting system which is based in 20 units instead of 10.
  • The 29 unique markings on Lebombo bone is approximately the same number as the lunar cycle which is 29.531 days.

Who wrote the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus?

Historians suggest that Ahmose was responsible for writing the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus.

What is known as the cradle of African mathematics?

The Ishango bone is known as the cradle of African mathematics.

What is the Moscow Papyrus consists of?

It is loaded with 25 mathematical problems including the formulas to calculate the length of the rudder, the volume of a truncated pyramid and the surface area of the basket.

How old is the Ishango bone?

The Ishango bone dates back to the Upper Paleolithic era and is believed to be 20,000 years old.