Were prehistoric hunters and gatherers expected to contribute a specified percentage of resources to their communities? Did migrating groups mathematically keep track of their covered distances, and did anyone calculate the speed at which they travelled? Not just then.
So then, when did man meet math, and what did it look like in the dark days of prehistory?
It turns out that it looked a lot like a baboon’s fibula.
The Lebombo bone is the oldest mathematical object that we have, and it features 29 distinctly man-made notches. Discovered in the Lebombo mountains of Swaziland, it dates back to about 35,000 BC, and although we are not 100% certain, we believe that the markings were made by women. This is what The Universal Book of Mathematics has to say about the subject:
“Discovered in the 1970s during excavations of Border Cave…the Lebombo bone…may have been used as a lunar phase counter, in which case African women may have been the first mathematicians, because keeping track of menstrual cycles requires a lunar calendar.”
At the dawn of history math was not a science; it was not a discipline full of abstract, as well as, concrete concepts that could be practically applied as they are today. It was a way for the very first people to keep track of the natural phenomena around them. The emergence of language eventually propelled math forward by giving numbers – magnitude and form. But back then, math looked a lot like sticks, stones and bones.