You’ve probably used an abacus before, although you may not remember it. The early versions of these tools are still popular toys, helping children learn counting. They have a very important role in history, however, are still used today in many parts of the world and actually play a role in the way modern computers work.
Here are the reasons why the abacus is more important than you think.
They Started Modern Organized Counting & Survive Today
While there are plenty of earlier papers and rock etchings which demonstrate counting, the abacus is the first known device for working out math problems. There are artifacts and evidence that numerous ancient civilizations used some version of the abacus, including the ancient Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Chinese, Persians, Japanese, Koreans, Indians and Native Americans.
One example of an ancient abacus-like counting device is the quipu, used by ancient Incas. It is essentially a length of rope from which other ropes dangle – knots are tied in the ropes to indicate numbers and count.
A modern day example of the abacus’s enduring use is found in Japan. Even with all the technological advances of today, Japanese school children are still taught how to use an abacus. It is believed to help stimulate the mind better than tapping numbers into a calculator, and therefore to help children learn more effectively.
They Are Used in Real World Applications Today
Not just a tool for school children, many adults across the world use the abacus as a means of calculating transactions where technology is scarce. This is most commonly found in outdoor fairs, bazaars and markets.
While the only abacus many of us have ever seen was a very simple one, there are designs of abacus which can be used to calculate more complicated math problems, including decimals, fractions and square roots. Blind students are often taught math using an abacus, and most become so proficient that they can solve problems faster than their sighted peers using calculators!
Binary code – the sequences of 0’s and 1’s which make up computer language – can easily be demonstrated and worked out on an abacus. In fact, many consider the abacus to be the very first computer.
Binary abacuses are different from traditional ones, and feature three rows of beads. These can be manipulated to show whether a switch is on or off, the basis of binary code. There are many applications for the binary abacus, including teaching, figuring out difficult coding sequences without the aid of a computer and creating code.
While it may be thought of as a children’s toy, the abacus has a long and widespread history which lives on today.