Neat Freak Gadget Corner

Highlighting Great Accounting Tools Throughout History


The abacus was developed in ancient Greece and Rome around 5000 BC – starting out at a slab with lines and beads, the placement of which would indicate quantities and track calculations. This is a step forward from slabs marked with clay tokens in the abstraction of quantities, the ease of performing calculations, and in the formal convenience of repeated use.

Eventually, the abacus evolved to the prototypical version we think of today (a frame with moveable beads) to meet the needs of people who don’t want their beads spilling all over the floor all the time, like travelling merchants.

As use of the abacus spread, different regions developed it in different ways, stalling out around the advent of numerals, of course. But, abaci are still in use today, improving mental math abilities and breaking reliance on electronic assistance.

Thanks, abacus! We appreciate you.

Clay Token

In areas of the middle east, archaeologists have found small, man-made clay tokens in standardized shapes that date back to 7500 BC. The significance of these clay tokens has been unpacked by Denise Schmandt-Besserat, who is basically real-life Indiana Jones.

Schmandt-Besserat determined that these tools were used in an early form of correspondence accounting. People could track quantities of grain, populations of livestock, building materials – or anything really – by representing them with a token. This way, they could perform calculations by comparing numbers of tokens visually or tactilely.

As these tokens were adopted more widely, people began using them to make impressions in clay tablets, which is acknowledged as the beginning of cuneiform (the foundation of modern writing). In contemporary times, we use items similar to clay tokens to help our children understand simple calculations and to quantify beyond their ability to count.

Well done, clay token. We appreciate you.