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I hope you are all enjoying World Maths Day! (Or if you’re American, World Math Day). I’ve put together a tour of the history of math in Africa and Asia, so you can see that the math we do today is made up of ideas from all different places and times.

A real Babylonian math problem on a clay tablet

A real Babylonian math problem on a clay tablet

African Math

From Africa, we get the earliest tally sticks for counting. Then the earliest use of the Pythagorean theorem to build the Pyramids and other stone buildings. In Egypt, Euclid invented the geometrical proof. Eratosthenes worked on prime numbers. And a woman named Hypatia worked on the geometry of cones. Later in Islamic North Africa, al Hassar invented the way we write fractions, and Ibn al-Yasamin (who was black) showed how to combine Indian numbers with Egyptian geometry to solve algebra problems.

African mathematics

West Asian math

West Asian traders – probably mostly women – figured out how to write numbers down in the Early Bronze Age, moving from tally sticks to clay tokens to written numbers. We get the 24-hour day and the 12 hours in the morning/12 hours in the afternoon from the Mesopotamians.

West Asian numbers
West Asian math

how to write numbers in Chinese with horizontal and vertical lines

Chinese number rods

India and math

Mathematicians in India had new ideas about probabilities, infinity, and time. Later on, they invented the number zero, and the numbers we call “Arabic numbers,” which Arab people call “Indian numbers.” Those are the numbers you use today in math classes.

Indian mathematics

China and math

Chinese math brought us base ten numbers, and place value, and the abacus (the earliest calculator, still about as fast as a pocket calculator).

Math in early China
The Nine Chapters
Make your own abacus

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