What if the first 'mathematicians' were women?

What if the first 'mathematicians' were women?


Today we know that both the last hominids and the first populations of Homo They used and created wood, stone and bone tools. Also that the Neandertals of about 100,000 years ago and the "anatomically modern" humans of the Levant made stone tools with similar characteristics.

Recent data they indicate that some manifestations of "non-figurative art" found in caves like La Pasiega (Puente Viesgo, Cantabria) would predate the arrival of our species to the Cantabrian Cornice. In other words, they would have been made by Neanderthals.

In fact, some authors talk about a possible "teaching task" of the Neanderthals, better adapted to the living conditions in Europe, towards the populations of Homo sapiens arrived to our continent from Africa. They base their claim on the coexistence of remains at common archaeological levels. But that pedagogical work does not seem to be given to transmit knowledge mathematicians, cognitive abilities that are not attributed to Neanderthals.

It is reasonable to think that humans in the European Upper Palaeolithic would feel the need to count objects and events. For example, the passage of time in days or even lunar months. These constant repetitions could constitute the first accounting motivations of our ancestors, as Nilsson already advanced in 1920.

But do not assume that the Homo sapiens, emerged in Africa about 200,000 years ago, developed these skills artistic upon arriving in Europe 40,000 years ago. Nor that the authorship of prehistoric art should be attributed, as the images of the books dedicated to the subject seem to assume, to artists males

In 2010 we baptized as Zaslavsky conjecture to these two perspectives, in honor of the American ethnomathematics Claudia Zaslavsky, who completed the interpretation of the Ishango bone.

This piece of 10.2 cm long was found in the vicinity of Lake Eduardo (central Africa) and today is deposited in the Royal Institute of Natural Sciences of Brussels (Belgium). It presents 168 transversal incisions arranged in different groups, separated from each other along three columns.

If we develop in a plane the cylindrical surface of the bone, in the first column of the left we find 11, 13, 17 and 19 notches. In the middle column, 3, 6, 4, 8, 10, 5, 5 and 7 notches. Finally, 11, 21, 19 and 9 notches appear in the column on the right.

In two of the columns there are 60 notches and in the third there are 48. As 60 + 60 + 48 = 168, that is, 6 times 28, Zaslavsky wondered if it could not be a count of six menstrual cycles, so that, perhaps the decoration of the bone was the work of a woman and, therefore, that the first maths of history were women.

Nursing Pendant

Nursing Pendant

A large collection of notches

This hypothesis could be accepted if there were enough complementary pieces to corroborate it, and the Franco-Cantabrian region contributes several elements in this way.

A hanging of about 30,000 years, found in Gorge d'Enfer (France), has notches in parallel at its edges. These are interrupted by the breakage of the piece, both in the hanging head and in the lower part, but it seems to present about 60 incisions.

The Morín pendant (Cantabria) is engraved with a harmonic series of some 30 transversal notches in parallel, which contour the object. In Las Caldas (Asturias) a perforated horse incisor was found which, according to Corchón, shows 30 (11 + 13 + 6) short incisions at the edges.

In strata K and L of La Garma (Cantabria) were found two deer canines, perforated in the central area of ​​the root and decorated with similar horizontal notches, short and parallel, that seem to add between 28 and 30. Another deer canine , found in Altamira by Breuil and Obermaier in the excavations of 1924-1925 would have, according to Álvarez Fernández, exactly 28 incisions of this type.

The "Zaslavsky conjecture" finds its greatest support not in these individual evidences, but in a set of four small plates. These, found together in Altamira, were made with horse hyoid bone during the Solutrean era, about 18,500 years ago.

Drawing of the Morín pendant

Drawing of the Morín pendant

The four have an almost rectangular shape and are perforated at one end, as a single pendant for personal adornment. Although the pieces are deteriorated, they have an analogous decoration of short and parallel notches on the edges that, due to the information provided by their current state, could have accounted for around 30 incisions, depending on the consideration to be attributed to the different brands. .

The importance of these 30 incisions is due to their coincidence with the number of days (29.5) of the lunar month, as well as that of the female menstrual cycle (about 28). The person who made the pieces put the same decoration for all of them and repeated the same motive, both in the count of the strokes and in the one-to-one correspondence between the groups of 30 strokes. In short, although the decoration remained unfinished, we are facing what is probably the first (and, perhaps, only) Paleolithic collection conceived as a unit of symbolic expression of 8 groups of some 30 brands.

These findings raise new questions. Would you have wanted to count the duration of a pregnancy? Would they want to have represented eight months from the first fault?

What Solutrean male would have been relevant to prepare these pieces and perform this recount? Have men been, as a priority, as the generalized iconography suggests, the authors of the demonstrations of parietal and movable art that are preserved?

Serious doubts are raised about this. Fewer doubts remain about whether Claudia Zaslavsky was right. Altamira is the name of a woman … and mathematics, too.

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