The jigsaw for rewriting the history of number

Kay Owens, Patricia Paraide

Research output: Book chapter/Published conference paperConference paperpeer-review

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Putting together the pieces of a large jigsaw, Glen Lean wrote his thesis about the number systems of Papua New Guinea and Oceania and the genealogy of these systems. He gathered together data on counting words from two-thirds of the area’s 1200 languages, analysed them using a cycle system, and took account of cultural contexts, the position and juxtaposition of languages, their phyla and subphyla. The archaeological and archaeological linguistic evidence has continued to grow and support his claims for the development of number systems in this region, and indeed its implications for the history of number across the world. Importantly, oral histories and recent histories, cultural contexts and social changes have all contributed to the jigsaw. Evidence is provided for counting systems spreading locally (not from afar), innovations occurring, and modifications made to suit cultural practices. Cultural values drove differences and similarities in the types of counting systems. Importantly, the data suggest people had a sense of large numbers. Anthropological, linguistic, mathematical, and reflective narratives have contributed to the study. More recently Papua New Guineans have been investigating their counting words, gestures and displays, and cultural contexts in an anthropological sense to further the research on number especially for strengthening school education and maintaining culture.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationConference Proceedings Anais
Subtitle of host publication18th IUAES World Congress
Place of PublicationBrazil
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9788562946967
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Event18th IUAES World Congress: World (of) Encounters: The past, present and future anthropological knowledge - Federal University of Santa Catarina, Florianopolis, Brazil
Duration: 16 Jul 201820 Jul 2018 (conference website)


Conference18th IUAES World Congress
Internet address

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