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Ancient African Science and Mathematics

The earliest known evidence of this comes from a tally stick left behind in the Lebombo Cave. The stick had 29 notches carved out of it. One theory was that it was used to count the days from one full moon to the next full moon, but there is no way of knowing if it was used for that or for counting people or the number of baskets full of food. Overall, it is clear that the ancient Africans used marks as a way of recording their daily tasks.

Traveling further north, the people of East Africa also relied on tally sticks. Around 20,000 BC, evidence found at Ishango (at the head of the Nile River) highlights another tally stick. However, the difference is that the markings were positioned in groups. One person could have used the same stick to keep track of a handful of thing. Others believe it could have been used for some sort of mathematics or for some kind of calendar.

When taking a look at the times of 7000 BC, the ancient people of Egypt and Sudan used tokens made out of clay as a way to count items. It is believed that this method originated in West Asia, where using tokens were noted earlier with the culture. In 3000 BC, ancient Egyptians started to use hieroglyphs as a way to jot down larger numbers. It didn’t take long for this method of mathematics to evolve into geometry, which would equip the Egyptians with the knowledge needed to construct the Great Pyramids.

Africa continued to become influenced by other cultures. With the colonization of North Africa by the Phoenicians, which took place around 800 BC, the people were introduced to the West Asian systems of counting and writing numbers. The North Africans adapted these ways for many centuries. Enter the Romans and schools were opened throughout North Africa with students learning the ins and outs of Greek geometrical proofs.

Other mathematical advancements associated with the ancient Africans include:

·    An Indian number system that led to new discoveries in the field of algebra.

·    A new method for reducing fractions was created by Al-Qurash.

·    Al-Hassar, a North African mathematician, came up with a more modern way of writing fractions that used a bar separating the top from the bottom , the method in which we are accustomed to today. He additionally published textbooks in Arabic that showed how to add whole numbers and fractions; calculate square roots and cube roots; and work with prime numbers.

In the article titled, “The Role of a Woman in Ancient African Science and Medicine,” you will be introduced to the role of a woman in the world of science and medicine within the ancient African cultures.