Computer History
Math and Arithmetic

Why was the abacus invented?

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2014-08-02 12:16:10

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


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 more affluent people, could afford small wooden tables

having raised borders that were filled with sand (usually coloured

blue or green).

A benefit of these counting boards on tables, was that they

could be moved without disturbing the calculation- the table could

be picked up and carried indoors.

With the need for portable devices, wooden boards with grooves

carved into the surface were then created and wooden markers (small

discs) were used as place-holders. The wooden boards then gave way

to even more more durable materials like marble and metal (bronze)

used with stone or metal markers.

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