The Secret of Ishango (PDF)

Das Geheimnis von Ishango (PDF)

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The Ishango bones were found in the 1950s by Belgian archaeologist Jean de Heinzelin near a Palaeolithic residence in Ishango, Africa. Inscriptions, which can be interpreted as numbers, make these bones the oldest mathematical find in human history. Interestingly, on one of the two Ishango bones, we also find the six consecutive prime numbers 5, 7, 11, 13, 17 and 19. Did Stone Age people already know the secret of the prime numbers? This question is explored in my mathematical essay “The Secret of Ishango”, an adventurous journey around the world from Basel in Switzerland to Erode in India. The presumed connection between the numbers on the Ishango bones and the structure of the prime numbers is illustrated by a sketch at the end of the text. Are the prime numbers organized as a double helix like DNA? As the physicist and mathematician Freeman John Dyson said so beautifully: “For any speculation which does not at first glance look crazy, there is no hope.”

Albert Einstein, Alberto Giacometti, Athanasius Kircher, Benoît Mandelbrot, Bernhard Riemann, Blaise Pascal, Carl Friedrich Gauss, Douglas R. Hofstadter, Edgar Allan Poe, Erich Kästner, Euklid von Alexandria, Galileo Galilei, Gebrüder Bernoulli, Godfrey Harold Hardy, Grigori Perelman, Jean de Heinzelin, Johann Jakob Balmer, Karl-Heinz Kuhl, Kurt Gödel, Leonhard Euler, Maria Mitchell, Matsuo Basho, Niels Bohr, Rosalind Franklin, Srinivasa Ramanujan, Theodor Kaluza, Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, Yitang Zhang

The Ishango bone with the prime numbers photographed from four different sides (Web | Print) and exhibited in the Museum of Natural Sciences in Brussels (Web | Print). Photos RBINS

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