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Computer History
Ancient History
Math and Arithmetic

What is an abacus used for?

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August 02, 2014 5:36PM
  • The abacus is basically the worlds first mechanical calculator, and is considered a forefather of the modern computer.
  • Originally the abacus dates back to between 2,700 and 2,400 BCE (over 4,000 years ago) and was developed in Sumeria. It is actually a calculating aid and not an automatic device.
  • Originally it may have been used by storekeeper, traders and government officials who needed to perform basic calculations.
  • The system used a number of pebbles (or beads) placed in columns on a board or attached to a string. Each column represented a multiple of 10; to to produce the number 634 you would place 6 beads in the 100's column, 3 beads in the 10's column and 4 beads in the 1's column. By adding and deducting beads you could quickly and accurately perform relatively complex calculations without having to try and keep all the numbers in your head while doing so.
  • The above example is just that, an example, older civilizations did not use exactly the same counting system that we do today, some used multiples of 5, where as others used 10 basic digits.
  • The abacus is still in use to day and is used to teach children the basic of mathematics, some rural areas still rely on them as they are robust, cheap and don't have batteries.