Yes it’s true. Before there was a Greece, before there was a Romulus or Remus, before there was a Rome, before there was a Carthage, before there was a Kemet (so-called ancient Egypt,) before there was a pyramid, before there was Her Em Ahket (the so-called Sphinx)….Africans were doing math. That means the world’s three oldest mathematical objects are from Africa.
Undeniably, the three oldest known mathematical objects in the world are from Africa. It would seem likely the continent which gave birth to the entire human race, in addition to all language, thought and culture, also gave us mathematics. The two Ishango bones were both excavated in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Lebombo bone is from a cave on the border between Swaziland and South Africa.
The Ishango Bones
The name Ishango comes from the Ishango area of the North-Kivu Province located in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo. It lies near the shores of the Semliki River in the Virunga National Park. Humans have occupied Ishango for over 25,000 years.
Zoologist Jean de Heinzelin de Braucourt began excavating the area in 1950. Hubert Damas located the site originally where he discovered human remains along with bones with harpoon heads on them. After publishing his findings, Damas did not explore the area further.
Excavations first revealed the second Ishango bone in 1959. It comes from the same layer of excavation as the first bone. At 40 cm long, it has 90 notches categorized as “major” and “minor” due to length. Six-sided in shape with a broken, hollow end demonstrates an evident effort at craftsmanship went into its production. At the time of its discovery, no one attached any significance to the notches.
Because of the first Ishango bone a reanalysis of the second was necessary. It is the first Ishango bone which had markings which are considered the oldest known mathematical evidence. Someone scraped, thinned, and polished the bone to such an extent the original source is difficult to determine. Researchers consider it to be either the bone of a baboon or lion.
One end of the first Ishango bone has a piece of quartz embedded in it. Additionally, his indicates utility as cutting device, although its exact use is still unknown. The main area of the bone has 168 notches, in 16 groups and split in three rows. They cover three sides of the bone.
Lastly, researchers date both Ishango bones to approximately 20,000 before the present.
The Lebombo Bone
Border Cave sits on the border between South Africa and Swaziland. The cave is located in the Lebombo Mountains at an elevation 365 m above sea level.
When archaeologists were conducting an excavation of Border Cave in the early 1970s they found a baboon fibula now known as The Lebombo bone. They have dated it to between 42,300 and 43,000 years old. The Lebombo bone has 29 markings along one edge. The notches have been allude to as being related to the cycle of the moon. Additionally, some researchers suggest the notches identify a woman’s menstrual cycle.