Obscura

Mangarevan arithmetic

PNAS recently published a cognitive anthropology paper titled Mangarevan invention of binary steps for easier calculation. The paper describes an arithmetic system that had been used for hundreds of years by islanders living in Mangareva (a small island in French Polynesia) for the purpose of “counting a small group of highly valued objects such as turtles, fish, coconuts, octopuses, and breadfruits”. This system is not too different from the decimal system that we’re using today, except that a number in the Mangarevan language can contain a small segment of binary code, which employs four numerals to represent 10 multiplied by the first four powers of 2.
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