Ethnomathematics of the Inkas

  • Thomas E. Gilsdorf
Reference work entry

Under the shade of a tree some women are sitting. They are watching over several children, but at the same time their bodies are subtly swaying and their hands are busy moving threads. These women are weaving. As they talk among themselves, calculations are occurring: 40 × 2, 20 × 2, 10 × 2, etc. On their weaving tools symmetric patterns of geometric and animal figures are slowing emerging, produced from years of experience in counting and understanding symmetric properties. The procedures they follow have been instructed to them verbally as has been done for thousands of years, and they follow it precisely, almost subconsciously. In fact, these women are doing mathematics. They are calculating pairs of threads in blocks of tens (10, 20, and so on) and determining which colors of threads must go in which places so that half of emerging figures will be exactly copied across an axis of symmetry. These women, and likely some girls who are learning from them, are not writing down...

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The author would like to express his gratitude to a number of people who made useful comments about the paper and/or about the topic of Inka mathematics: Elisa Alcántara G., Professors Alejandro Ortiz F., Clara Lucía Higuera Acevedo, and to Professor Gary Urton who looked over a draft of this work.


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  • Thomas E. Gilsdorf

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