Where Did Math Come From?

Math is nearly as old as humanity itself. Since before the Middle Ages, math has been crucial to advances in science, engineering, philosophy, medicine, and even the arts. It has since evolved from its humble beginnings of simple counting, measurement, the study of shapes and motion, and calculations to more board, complex and often abstract concepts that we know today. Math has evolved in this way through imagination and logic.

image on Story of Mathematics

Our prehistoric ancestors set in motion the creation of mathematics.

While it may not be anything more advanced than the ability to simply recognize the difference between one and two antelopes, this was the stepping stone in the invention of a symbol or words for the abstract idea of “two” or “three,” etc. Evidence in the form of notched ticks craved into bones tells us that early men kept track of regular occurrences, like moon phases and the seasons; the earliest evidence of marked bones dates back to 35,000 to 20,000 years ago in Africa.

However, it wasn’t until the Sumerian and Babylonian civilizations of Mesopotamia (roughly located in present-day Iraq) and in ancient Egypt developed agriculture that proper math came into existence. Agriculture required measurement of plots of land, taxation of individuals, etc., which brought about the practice of basic arithmetic and geometry.

As civilizations grew and expanded, so did the math.

By the 16th century, with the artistic movement of the Renaissance, multiplication, division, radical (root), decimal and inequality symbols became standardized. It was from this point on with the centuries that followed that math became the complex science of number, quantity, and space as we know it today. You can read more about this topic on the Story of Mathematics page.