Native American Mathematics

Edward Doolittle
Thu, Sep 18, 2014
PIMS, University of Calgary

One sometimes hears that the indigenous peoples of the Americas are for some reason not predisposed to be able to do mathematics. This belief is surprising, since the mathematical traditions of the Western Hemisphere prior to European contact were already rich and extensive. This talk will focus on some of those traditions, primarily Central American but with some information about mathematical traditions in Algonkian cultures such as the Blackfoot.  Almost all of this talk will be accessible to any interested listener, with perhaps five minutes in the middle using a small amount of very elementary number theory. Along the way any listener who has ever eaten an 18 Rabbits granola bar will learn why doing so celebrates indigenous mathematics. 


The Richard & Louise Guy lecture series celebrates the joy of discovery and wonder in mathematics for everyone. Indeed, the lecture series was a 90th birthday present from Louise Guy to Richard in recognition of his love of mathematics and his desire to share his passion with the world. Richard Guy is the author of over 100 publications including works in combinatorial game theory, number theory and graph theory. He strives to make mathematics accessible to all. The other contributions to the lecture series have been made by Elwyn Berlekamp (2006), John Conway (2007), Richard Nowakowski (2008), William Pulleyblank (2009), Erik Demaine (2010), Noam Elkies (2011), Ravi Vakil (2012) and Carl Pomerance (2013).