Mathematics is essential in our modern society. From economic models used at Wall Street to Google’s search algorithms and so many things more, mathematics is all around us and stands at the forefront of our scientific knowledge. Ancient mathematics started far before civilization, even before language itself. Most even claim the construction of all the ancient structures across the world could not have been created without the use of some form of advanced mathematical technology.
The origins of mathematics probably lie in the abstract concepts of numbers and values. Modern studies of animal cognition have shown that these concepts are not unique to humans but can also be found in certain animals such as apes. Mathematical ideas would have been part of everyday life in ancient hunter-gatherer societies, from probable simple comparisons of objects to defining what time of year it was. The idea of the “number” evolving over time is supported by the appearance of certain languages that have preserved the distinction between “one”, “two”, and “many”, but not specifically numbers larger than two.
The oldest known supposed mathematical object is the Lebombo bone that was discovered in the Lebombo mountains of Swaziland, Africa and was dated back to approximately 35,000 BC. It consists of 29 distinct notches cut into a baboon’s fibula. Other prehistoric artifacts were discovered in Africa and France, dated between 35,000 and 20,000 years old, suggesting early attempts to quantify time.
The Ishango bone that was found near the Nile river (northeastern Congo), may be as much as 20,000 years old and consists of a series of tally marks carved in three columns running the length of the bone. Many scholars think the Ishango bone shows either the earliest known demonstration of sequences of prime numbers or a six month lunar calendar.
In the book “How Mathematics Happened: The First 50,000 Years”, by Peter Rudman, he argues that the development of the concept of prime numbers could only have been created after the concept of division, which he dates to after 10,000 BC, with prime numbers probably not being understood until about 500 BC. Peter Rudman also writes that “no attempt has been made to explain why a tally of something should exhibit multiples of two, prime numbers between 10 and 20, and some numbers that are almost multiples of 10.”
The Ishango bone, according to scholar Alexander Marshack, may have influenced the later development of mathematics in Egypt as, like some entries on the Ishango bone, Egyptian arithmetic also made use of multiplication by 2, however, this is disputed.
Predynastic Egyptians of the 5th millennium BC pictorially represented geometric designs. It has been claimed that megalithic monuments in England and Scotland, dating from the 3rd millennium BC, incorporate geometric ideas such as circles,ellipses, and Pythagorean triples in their design.
The currently oldest undisputed mathematical usage is in Mesopotamian sources. Thus it took humans at least 45,000 years from the attainment of behavioral modernity and language to develop mathematics as such.
Still much is unknown about the history of mathematics, especially how ancient structures were built with such a high level of precision and detail and without the supposed use of highly advanced mathematics we know today.
Mesopotamian clay tablets dating back to the 4th millennium BC claim their advanced knowledge was given to them by advanced beings they refer to as the Anunnaki (meaning something as “those who Anu sent from heaven to earth”). Maybe new findings of ancient objects can shed more light on how ancient man obtained its advanced knowledge of mathematics.