A Brief History of the Abacus
Abacus is a Latin word that has its origins in the Greek words abax or abakon (meaning "table" or "tablet") which in turn, possibly originated from the Semitic word abq, meaning "sand" 1. Why does the abacus exist?
It is difficult to imagine counting without numbers, but there was a time when written numbers did not exist. The earliest counting device was the human hand and its fingers. Then, as larger quantities (larger than ten human-fingers could represent) were counted, various natural items like pebbles and twigs were used to help count. Merchants who traded goods not only needed a way to count goods they bought and sold, but also to calculate the cost of those goods. Until numbers were invented, counting devices were used to make everyday calculations. The abacus is one of many counting devices invented to help count large numbers. The difference between a counting board and an abacus
It is important to distinguish the early abacuses (or abaci) known as counting boards from the modern abaci. The counting board is a piece of wood, stone or metal with carved grooves or painted lines between which beads, pebbles or metal discs were moved. The abacus is a device, usually of wood (plastic, in recent times), having a frame that holds rods with freely-sliding beads mounted on them. Both the abacus and the counting board are mechanical aids used for counting; they are not calculators in the sense we use the word today. The person operating the abacus performs calculations in their head and uses the abacus as a physical aid to keep track of the sums, the carrys, etc. What did the first counting board look like?
The earliest counting boards are forever lost because of the perishable materials used in their construction. However, educated guesses can be made about their construction, based on early writings of Plutarch (a priest at the Oracle at Delphi) and others. In outdoor markets of those times, the simplest counting board...
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