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Ishango Bones


The Ishango Bone is likely one of the oldest mathematical tools in existence. Sources differ regarding the date of its discovery with some indicating that it was discovered in 1950 while others site 1960 as the date of discovery. The bone was found amongst the ruins of a settlement near Lake Edward that was buried after a volcanic explosion. The Ishango Bone was discovered by geologist, Jean de Heinzelin de Braucort (1920-1998) in the Ishango region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The bone is believed to be the fibula of a baboon. It measures approximately 10cm-14cm in length and is inscribed with a organized series of notches. At one end of the tool is a sharp quartz edge that is believed to have been used as a writing instrument. The Ishango Bones discovered by Heinzelin de Braucourt are housed at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences.

There are varying ideas about how the tool was used. Many believed the Ishango Bone to be a tally stick of some sort. While others believed it may have been used to track the lunar calendar. With careful observation, it can be determined that each number is a product of manipulation with 2 used as the base value. Since the bone contains all odd prime numbers under 20, it was likely used as table of prime numbers.

How the tool was utilized remains a mystery. Some scientist denounced the notches on the tool as merely being a way to improve the grip of the bone. However, the intentionality with which the notches were made, denote a higher level of function for the tool. The Ishango Bone was used for some sort of mathematic computation nearly a thousand years before the Egyptians and Babylonians begin utilizing concepts of basic math! It seems to have served as a pre historic calculator of sorts; discovered on the continent of Africa!  Check out the video below for more info.


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