Africa: the birthplace of mathematics

Maths is helpful, beautiful and necessary to everyone in the world. And maths was first used in Africa! Businesses, governments, schools- everyone uses maths all the time. Everyone learns to count to 5 early in their childhood. But where did these numbers come from?


The oldest ruler ever found was in the mountains of Swaziland. This is called the ‘Lembombo bone.’ It is just like rulers today. The bone has marks in it at regular places. This meant Ancient Africans could measure other pieces of material. It is made from a baboon bone as baboons have always been special animals to Ancient Africans.


The next bone found was the ‘Ishango bone’ in the Congo area. This was more advanced than the ‘Lembombo bone.’ It had markings on it for prime numbers. The first 3 prime numbers are 2,5 and 7. Prime numbers are numbers that can only be divided by 1 and themselves. So, 4 is not a prime number as it can be divided by 1,2 and 4. 6 is not a prime number as it can be divided by 1,2,3 and 6. This was advanced maths and Africans were the first to discover it. This discovery spread around the world later and changed maths forever.


Many people around the world play board games with their family and friends. The first board game was designed and played around 2500 years ago in Africa. The ‘Mancala’ game first came from Yeha in Ethiopia. The game is played with stones and a wooden board with 2 rows with 6 holes in each row. There are 2 big holes at each end of the board. Each player must catch more stones than the other player. When it was first used, the board would have been carved clay or mud. Playing mancala develops your ‘strategy’ thinking. This is when you have to think ahead about the consequences of your actions. This strategic way of thinking is an important math skill.


Some people think that maths is a strange and useless subject. They also think that Maths come from outside Africa. However, this is the opposite of what is true. Maths was first used by the first humans in Africa and it influenced maths all over the world. We use maths without realising it. We count the number of bananas we are buying. We tell the time. We draw shapes. This is all maths and without it, the world would be a different place. Africa is responsible for the evolution of maths and its importance.


Everyone is capable of doing maths. Maths is often seen as not useful in the real world. However maths is important for scientists. And every county needs Scientists to develop technologies and help the country grow. The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences is trying to change these attitudes towards maths education. Many great Scientists have come from Africa such as Philip Emeagwali. Africa is the birthplace of maths. It has the potential to produce many more Scientists that can help change the world.



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