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Who Invented The Abacus?

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When someone hears the word abacus, they typically think of it as being a rudimentary way of counting and that no one ever uses one of those anymore. You would be shocked to find out that in some countries in Asia and Africa, have clerks and traders that still use the abacus. These clerks and traders even have a special name for using the abacus, they are known as abacist. Read on to learn more about the inventors of the abacus.

The sexagesimal number systemThe sexagesimal number system.

Mesopotamian Abacus

The first Sumerian abacus appeared between 2700-2300 BC. The abacus was a table that had successive columns that used the sexagesimal number system. It is thought that the abacus was used for simple subtraction and addition. Since the abacus was too archaic, it can’t be use for anything that was complex.

Salamis TabletSalamis Tablet. Found in 1846 on the island of Salamis, Greece.

Greek abacus

The oldest abacus to be found dates back to 300 BC. It was found on the Greek island Salamis around the mid 1840′s. The table is made of white marble and has several lines and markings across the top. The size of it is almost 5 feet long, 2 and half feet wide and 2 inches thick.

A replica of the Roman abacusA replica of the Roman abacus. Photographer: Mike Cowlishaw.

Roman abacus

The Roman abacus was used up until the 11th century. They were smooth tables that one could slide counters and later calculi across. They were marked with the Roman numeral system. Small groups would represent ones while others would be fives, tens and so on. This type of counter casting system lasted till the late Roman Empire. It was also used in medieval Europe. Pope Sylvester II’s modifications helped to make it popular again in 11th century Europe.

SuanpanSuanpan. The number shown in the picture is 6,302,715,408.

Chinese abacus

The oldest known Chinese abacus, also known as suanpan, dates back to the 2nd century BC and was constructed differently than the modern version. It is typically eight inches tall, the length varied though, depending on who the operator was, however they typically had more than seven rods. They have an upper and lower deck. The top deck have 2 beads on each rod, typically made of hard wood and the bottom deck would consist of five beads on each rod. They were used for more than just addition and subtraction. Users could also multiply, divide and figure out square and cube roots!

Related stuff: Who invented numbers? and who invented the calculator?