Sunday, January 25, 2009
Were African Women First Mathematicians?
This seems at first an odd assertion, that, according to John Kellermeier's investigation, "How Menstruation Created Mathematics", women and their periods inspired and jump-started the development of mathematics by humans.
It began with "ethnomathematics", as defined by M. Borba (For the Learning of Mathematics, 10(1), 39-43) and D'Ambrosio (Impact of Science on Society, 40(4) 369-78) (both in 1990), who "define mathematics as the quantitative techniques that humans develop in response to the problems, struggles, and endeavors of human survival."
Apparently, the first driving survival issue was reproduction, hence the focus on women. Evidence of lunar calendars (timing of the menses) and objects indicating worship of fertility goddesses, etc. are found in ancient artifacts such as the Ishango Bone, also known as the second oldest mathematical object, possibly containing the oldest table of prime numbers.
You can read here to decide if the menstruation-inspiration idea is really on track.
At any rate, it seems mathematics may have originated with the group least associated with it today, sadly... African women. Hopefully, we can renew that creative, inspirational claim to science fame.