ES. The Ishango Bone

Dirk Huylebrouck, the Mathematical Tourist columnist in the Mathematical Intelligencer, tells us about the remarkable Ishango bone, a 22,000 year old arithmetical exercise!


  1. strauss said,

    April 9, 2009 at 11:34 am

    A correspondent writes:
    I recall hearing your podcast about the Ishango Bone and thought you’d find this interesting. It’s form a piece about linguists trying to preserve languages that may go extinct. 
    I’ve included an excerpt and the URL link
    The tribe has spoken … but for how much longer?
    One of the most exotic locales for “The Linguists” is in the jungles of India, where Harrison and Anderson tried to blend in with a tribe speaking the Sora language. Getting into the tribal lands is an adventure in itself, requiring special permission and official escorts.
    It’s almost humorous to watch a couple of white guys singing and the dancing with the villagers – and drinking more palm wine than maybe they should. The scene turns a little scary at one point when the white guys have trouble figuring out just how much of a “gift” they should hand over to the tribe’s chieftain.
    But once they get down to documenting the language, the linguists discover something that makes them forget all about the culture clash: It turns out that the Sora counting system blends two counting systems, base-12 and base-20. For example, the number 93 in our base-10 system is referred to as “four-twenty-twelve-one” in Sora.
    “We should try to figure out what these different ways of knowing math are before they all get flattened out and vanish,” Harrison says in the film.
  2. strauss said,

    July 8, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    Here’s a great interview with Dirk, on Belgian TV, as a giant replica of the Ishango bone is installed!


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