Re: prime numbers and African artifact

Jeffrey Shallit (
Fri, 7 Jul 1995 18:53:22 GMT

In article <>,
Jeffrey Shallit <> wrote:
>On page 21 of Joel Shurkin's 1984 book, _Engines of the Mind:
>A History of the Computer_ (W. W. Norton & Co.), he says:
> "A piece of bone found in Africa and dated at around 8,500 B.C.
>has engraved markings containing what appear to be representations of
>the numbers 11, 13, 17, and 19, all of which are prime numbers ..."
>Unfortunately, no further information is given. Does anyone out
>there know anything more about this artifact?
>Please respond by e-mail; I'll summarized if there is enough
>Jeffrey Shallit, Computer Science, University of Waterloo,
>Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3G1 Canada
>URL =

Thanks to several netters who supplied clues, I was able to find
more information about this bone.

The bone is called the "Ishango bone". It dates to about 6500 B.C.E.,
and is in the Musee d'Histoire Naturelle, Brussels. It has three
columns of four notches, and one of the columns has 11, 13, 17, and
19 notches.

Here are some references:

[1] Jean de Heinzelin, "Ishango", Scientific American 206 (6) (June
1962), 105-116.

[2] Alexander Marshack, _The Roots of Civilization_, McGraw-Hill,

[3] George Gherverghese Joseph, _The Crest of the Peacock_, Penguin
Books, 1991.

Thanks to all who replied.

Jeffrey Shallit, Computer Science, University of Waterloo,
Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3G1 Canada