1) History

Our mathematical journey begins with the first appearance of mankind, which is believed to have occurred about 600,000 or 700,000 years ago. Mankind, though physically ill prepared to compete in a hostile world in terms of strength and natural armament, used ingenuity and a little luck to begin the long journey toward civilization.

(Information from The Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia)

The human hand is quite different from most other animals, in that we have what is called an "opposable thumb". Our thumb "opposes", or faces the opposite direction as our fingers, and this allows us to grasp a stick, a knife, a pencil, a paint brush. Human beings differ from other creatures in their ability to make and use tools, unlike any other creature on Earth. Perhaps our greatest achievement is our ability to create visual and written, as well as verbal means to communicate, to create, and to record our own history. The first time a man or woman picked up a stick and drew a line or a circle in the dirt, visual communication began, and with it, the beginnings of art, science, and mathematics.

The history of mathematics begins, then, with that first line drawn in the sand or carved into the wall of a cave. Archaeologists have discovered cave drawings such as the one below, believed to have been created during the Paleolithic age.

Lascaux Cave is a site near Montignac, Dordogne, France with cave paintings of the MAGDALENIAN culture, noted for vivid and beautiful prehistoric artworks produced c.17,000 BC. Visit the site linked below to find more about prehistoric art and geometric drawings:

http://www.culture.fr/culture/arcnat/lascaux/en/

That first line drawn by a man or woman perhaps 100,000 years ago has brought us over the centuries to the creation of art, graphic design, architecture, science, and mathematics. Geometry is perhaps the most visual form of mathematics, but all fields of mathematics, from arithmetic through calculus use the symbols, lines, graphs, shapes and numerals that create meaning out of dots, lines, and curves. Human beings have used sticks, quill pens, chalk, pencils, printing presses, typewriters, and now computers to create, make sense of and record scientific and mathematical ideas.

Go to Topic 2 Basic Elements