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Bones, Clocks, and Counters; A Look at the First 35,000 Years of Computing

When we think of computers we tend to think of the present (and perhaps of the slow computers of decades past) but the history of calculation devices goes back significantly further and includes an array of interesting innovations.

At Neatorama they’ve gathered up over a dozen interesting examples from the annuals of history to illustrate humankind’s computer power over a 35,000 year span. The bones featured in the photo here areĀ representativeĀ of some of the earliest computation devices ever found.

The Lebombo bone is a 35,000-year-old baboon fibula discovered in a cave in the Lebombo mountains in Swaziland. The bone has a series of 29 notches that were deliberately cut to help ancient bushmen calculate numbers and perhaps also measure the passage of time. It is considered the oldest known mathematical artifact.

The unusual groupings of the notches on the Ishango bone (seen here), discovered in what was then the Belgian Congo, suggested that it was some sort of a stone age calculation tool. The 20,000-year-old bone revealed that early civilization had mastered arithmetic series and even the concept of prime numbers.

For more devices, including ancient Greek calculators, a machine that wove intricate silk designs from punch cards, and war-time code machines, check out the full article at the link below.

The Wonderful World of Early Computing [Neatorama via O'Reilly Radar]

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 01/10/11

Comments (1)

  1. Anonymous Me

    It should, probably, be “annals” not “annuals”
    #grammernazi ;)

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