The Inshango Bone

The first known ostensible mathematical tool in history is the Ishango bone, discovered in 1960 in what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and believed to be more than 20,000 years old. It is the fibula of a baboon bearing a distinct series of notches and a sharp piece of quartz affixed to one end.

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Scientists differ on what its precise purpose was, with suggestions including that it’s a tally stick, lunar calendar, a measurement of the menstrual cycle, or even the record of a previously unknown numeral system, which predates the earliest known examples by several thousand years. Some believe the scratches might simply have been created to provide a better grip on the handle for some other non-mathematical reason, such as engraving.

Read more about it here.

A snake mimics a spider

Why Evolution Is True

If you like evolution and natural history, you should already be reading Ed Yong’s terrific site Not Exactly Rocket Science at National Geographic. In his short post “This snake has a tail that looks like a spider,” he describes a remarkable and newly found type of mimicry.

The snake is, appropriately, the spider-tailed viper (Pseudocerastes urarachnoides), first described formally only 7 years ago from Iran.  It was known since the sixties, but the one specimen’s tail was dismissed as a tumor or deformity. We now know from other specimens that this is indeed a species-specific trait. As Yong notes:

The tail is bizarre. If you saw a close-up photo of it, you’d struggle to believe that there was a snake at the other end. There’s a large orange or grey bulb at the tip, and the scales just before that are bizarrely long and thin…

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