The Ishango bone is a bone tool, dated to the Upper Paleolithic era. It is a dark brown length of bone, the fibula of a baboon, with a sharp piece of quartz affixed to one end, perhaps for engraving. It was first thought to be a tally stick, as it has a series of what has been interpreted as tally marks carved in three columns running the length of the tool. It has also been suggested that the scratches might have been to create a better grip on the handle or for some other non-mathematical reason.
The Ishango bone was found in 1960 by Belgian Jean de Heinzelin de Braucourt while exploring what was then the Belgian Congo. It was discovered in the area of Ishango near the Semliki River. Lake Edward empties into the Semliki which forms part of the headwaters of the Nile River (now on the border between modern-day Uganda and Congo). The bone was found among the remains of a small community that fished and gathered in this area of Africa. The settlement had been buried in a volcanic eruption.
The artifact was first estimated to have originated between 9,000 BC and 6,500 BC. However, the dating of the site where it was discovered was re-evaluated, and it is now believed to be more than 20,000 years old (between 18,000 BC and 20,000 BC).
The Ishango bone is on permanent exhibition at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Brussels, Belgium