History of Mathematics
Tallies and Tablets - The Origins of Mathematics

Tallies and Tablets - The Origins of Mathematics
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     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 9 to 12
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   9.06

     challenging words:    flaw-it, quipus, teraflop, teraflops, geometry, mathematics, momentous, dated, splendor, egg-shaped, evolution, trillion, tally, reading, better, further
     content words:    Milky Way, Middle East, Papua New Guinea

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Tallies and Tablets - The Origins of Mathematics
By Colleen Messina

1     Have you ever wondered what a teraflop is? No, it is not a clumsy, prehistoric fish. A teraflop is a unit that measures the speed of computer calculations. One teraflop is 1 trillion calculations per second, and today there are computers that can sustain speeds of 35.86 teraflops! These incredible electronic calculations originated with the idea of numbers and counting. Most of us take math for granted, but numbers and counting have taken thousands of years to develop. So how did it all begin?
2     Tens of thousands of years ago, our ancestors found their food by hunting for meat and gathering wild plants. Survival was a constant struggle. Little did they realize that some mathematics could vastly improve their lives. For example, if they knew when certain berries were ripe, they could save themselves a lot of wandering time by only going to the berry thickets at precisely the right moment. The hunters and gatherers of ancient times needed something constant in their environment to help them track time.
3     The most constant thing in their world was the sky since the landscape changed through the seasons of the year. Early peoples observed the geometry in nature, the cycles of the seasons, and the splendor of the Milky Way. Our ancestors noticed the moon's pattern of becoming full, then slender, then full again in a recurring thirty-day cycle. This cycle gave them a key to solving the dilemma of tracking time. With this knowledge, they observed that sour, green berries took approximately a full cycle of the moon to ripen, so they began to cut notches in a tree or a stick to keep track of the days of the lunar cycle. Harvesting the berries and other food became much more efficient with this new system.

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