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Ethnomath Poster


Exploring the Role of Mathematical Thought in Traditional and Indigenous Societies


Amy Shell-Gellasch, Pacific Lutheran University
Darrah P. Chavey, Beloit College
Rhiannon Roselle, Beloit College
Marcia Ascher, Ithaca College

MAA Focus 28(6), Aug. 2008, center insert.



The poster shows examples of mathematical ideas from four cultures around the world. From the Pacific Islands, we see a map constructed by the deep-ocean navigators of the Marshall Islands. From South America, we see the quipu number collections of the Inca. From India we have the geometric patterns of the Kolam threshold drawings. And from the Congo region of Africa, we have the continuous line drawings of the Chokwe people.

The navigation map comes from the Smithsonian Institute, and was used by Marcia Ascher as a major example in her book "Ethnomathematics". The quipu picture comes from Marcia Ascher and was collected by her and her husband, Robert Ascher, in the development of their book "Code of the Quipu." The background kolam was constructed by Darrah Chavey using one of his software programs. The kolam and sona designs were selected by Darrah Chavey to demonstrate certain properties of these classes of designs, and they were constructed by Rhiannon Roselle, a student at Beloit College. Rhiannon is a former teaching assistant for the "Cultural Approaches to Mathematics" class at Beloit College, and was responsible for ensuring that the designs were constructed in as authentic a manner as possible.

Download the poster.

Physical copies of the poster are also available from Darrah Chavey, Beloit College, 700 College St., Beloit, WI 53511