Early African Calendars

Many math educators believe that learning about the multicultural history of mathematics can help a more diverse range of students achieve math success. Knowledge of their ancestors' contributions, proponents say, could enhance students' interest in algebra, for example, which was brought to Europe in books written by Islamic scholars from Central Asia, Arabia, Turkey, and North Africa. The following excerpt and activity, examines the origins of early North African number systems.
Grade Level


Activities will help students:

  • understand the multicultural history of mathematics 
  • compare the early Egyptian Lunar calendar with today’s Gregorian calendar
Essential Questions
  • How did ancient Egyptians contribute to modern day life? 
  • What causes change? What remains the same?


  1. There is evidence that people used lunar calendars long before writing was invented. Without modern numerals, how could you keep track of the number of days in a month?
  2. The Egyptian calendar had 12 months, each 30 days long. Each month had 3 weeks of 10 days. To make 365 days for the year, the Egyptians added 5 days of New Year's holidays. Compare their calendars to ours. Which do you prefer and why?
  3. The New Years would start on day 1 the first time the calendar was used. But the 365-day calendar ends the year 1/4 day too soon. How many years would it take before a New Year's Day would fall on the right day again? Complete this table to find the answer.


Additional Resources

  • The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) is the largest nonprofit professional association of mathematics educators in the world. Through its national and regional conferences, journals, books and videos, NCTM provides professional development. The NCTM website offers information about it programs and link to other math-related sites.
  • MATHCOUNTS is a national math coaching and competition program that promotes 7th-and 8th grade mathematics achievement through grassroots involvement. MATHCOUNTS distributes, free of charge, its School Handbook and other materials to schools across the country.
  • The Connected Math Project (CMP) is a middle school curriculum for teachers and students. Working with educators, CMP's mission is to break stereotypes about math learning by emphasizing reasoning and communication skills. With eight units per grade level, CMP encourages middle schoolers to explore their everyday environments.
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