History of the Abacus

The abacus has a very long history. It spans over thousands of years. The earliest abacus was invented about 5000 years ago. Some expert historians believe that the abacus was invented by the ancient Chinese. Still others are of the opinion that the abacus was invented by the Babylonians or by the Egyptians. However, all these claims are backed by historical evidence like archaeological excavations and ancient texts. It may be possible that many civilizations may have invented the abacus independently and roughly at the same time.

The first counting device was the human hand and the fingers. The reason why we use the decimal system is that there are 10 fingers (both hands combined) and so it is very easy to count if 10 is the base. Later on man started using natural objects and markings to count and calculate. Larger quantities [exceeding 10] could not be easily count on the fingers. So various natural objects like pebbles and twigs were used.

Merchants needed not only needed a way to count the goods that they bought and sold, they also needed a method to perform calculations. This was achieved with the help of counting boards. Until the advent of a proper number system, counting boards were very popular. The abacus has its origin in one such counting board.

Time line of the history of the abacus:

  • 3000 BC: An early form of abacus originates in the Orient
  • 1000 BC: Chinese start using counting boards
  • 500 BC: Romans and Greeks use counting boards
  • 300 BC: Abacus is widely used as a counting device in China
  • 500 AD: The abacus is used in Europe