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Human Uniqueness Compared to "Great Apes": 
Relative Difference
Human Universality: 
Individual Universal (All Individuals Everywhere)
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Arithmetic is a branch of mathematics that deals with number systems and operations with such numbers such as multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction. Modern human western educational systems focus heavily on arithmetic. Thus while the ability to learn arithmetic is universal to human populations, arithmetic itself is not universal to all human groups.

The earliest evidence of arithmetic in human evolutionary history dates to about 35,000 years ago. Baboon fibulae covered with scratches presumed to be tallies, including the “Lebombo bone” (35,000 years old) and the “Ishango bone” (25,000 years old), have been found at ancient human sites in Africa. The marks are presumed to be for counting. Others have suggested that they are evidence of more complex mathematics, and still others believe they have no mathematical significance.

There has been a significant amount of experimentation on mathematical skills of other animals. The ability to approximate numerical magnitude is widespread and extends even to birds and amphibians. Chimpanzees have been demonstrated to have the ability to count and sum small numbers. Other primates also have some simple numerical skill; one study of rhesus macaques demonstrated the mastery of abstract numerical rules (in this case, ordering numbers), and another showed they are capable of simple addition (although not as accurately as human college students). However, other studies have indicated that pigeons have abilities on par with this.

Neuroimaging studies of humans and other primates have indicated that a region called the intraparietal sulcus is highly involved in mathematical tasks. Lesions of the nearby left angular gyrus are associated with deficits in mental arithmetic abilities, although the neural basis of these skills is not fully understood. Notably, numerical processing in human children and rhesus monkeys causes increased activation of the prefrontal cortex when compared with human adults. It has been suggested, therefore, that this area is the early association cortex for numerical magnitude in both humans and other primates.

Interestingly, calculation deficits associated with lesions of the intraparietal sulcus are commonly found with “finger agnosia” (the inability to distinguish between individual fingers), suggesting that learned counting on fingers by children may be imprinted into cortical pathways. Along similar lines, people raised in different cultures or taught to solve problems with different methods exhibit differences in brain activation during mathematical problem-solving. Again, this suggests that culture and learning through human childhood may have a significant impact on neural patterning and mathematical skill.


Timing of appearance of the difference in the Hominin Lineage as a defined date or a lineage separation event. The point in time associated with lineage separation events may change in the future as the scientific community agrees upon better time estimates. Lineage separation events are defined in 2017 as:

  • the Last Common Ancestor (LCA) of humans and old world monkeys was 25,000 - 30,000 thousand (25 - 30 million) years ago
  • the Last Common Ancestor (LCA) of humans and chimpanzees was 6,000 - 8,000 thousand (6 - 8 million) years ago
  • the emergence of the genus Homo was 2,000 thousand (2 million) years ago
  • the Last Common Ancestor (LCA) of humans and neanderthals was 500 thousand years ago
  • the common ancestor of modern humans was 100 - 300 thousand years ago

Possible Appearance (Lineage Separation Event): 
Probable Appearance: 
35 thousand years ago
Definite Appearance: 
4 thousand years ago
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Referenced By:


  1. Pigeons on par with primates in numerical competence., Scarf, Damian, Hayne Harlene, and Colombo Michael , Science, 2011 Dec 23, Volume 334, Issue 6063, p.1664, (2011)
  2. Effects of development and enculturation on number representation in the brain., Ansari, Daniel , Nat Rev Neurosci, 2008 Apr, Volume 9, Issue 4, p.278-91, (2008)
  3. Basic math in monkeys and college students., Cantlon, Jessica F., and Brannon Elizabeth M. , PLoS Biol, 2007 Dec, Volume 5, Issue 12, p.e328, (2007)
  4. Primate numerical competence: contributions toward understanding nonhuman cognition, Boysen, Sarah T., and Hallberg Karen I. , Cognitive Science, Volume 24, p.423 - 443, (2000)
  5. Ordering of the numerosities 1 to 9 by monkeys., Brannon, E M., and Terrace H S. , Science, 1998 Oct 23, Volume 282, Issue 5389, p.746-9, (1998)
  6. Numerical competence in a chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes)., Boysen, S T., and Berntson G G. , J Comp Psychol, 1989 Mar, Volume 103, Issue 1, p.23-31, (1989)