The Mathematical Intelligencer

, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 53–60 | Cite as

Mathematical notions in preliterate societies

  • Walter S. Sizer


Many preliterate societies show considerable mathematical development. It is not unusual to encounter numeral systems going up to the hundreds of thousands or higher and to encounter some arithmetic ability. Many geometric notions are present, including simple forms like circles, lines, rectangles and parallelograms, and triangles, Other shapes and curves occur with less frequency. Some simpler geometric constructions are carried out, and perhaps some properties of similar right triangles are known. Logical reasoning shows up in kinship relationships and in some games of strategy. People seem to develop basic mathematical notions largely in response to what they consider important aspects of life. Large numbers come up when people need to count higher, whether counting shells used as money or yams harvested and stored or animals. More precise geometric constructions also enter in only where the society values precision. Part of determining exactly what a society has accomplished mathematically involves finding those aspects of life where the development of mathematical notions was important to the people.


Cook Island Mathematical Notion Bishop Museum Geometric Notion String Figure 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Walter S. Sizer
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of MathematicsMoorhead State UniversityMoorheadUSA

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