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Tallies and Tablets - The Origins of Mathematics
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 challenging words: flaw-it, quipus, teraflop, teraflops, momentous, gatherers, mathematics, geometry, tally, splendor, dated, reading, writing, better, evolution, lunar content words: Milky Way, Middle East, Papua New Guinea

 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! 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     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. They began to cut notches in a tree or a stick to keep track of the days and of lunar cycles. Harvesting food became much more efficient with this new system.

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