You have most likely seen one, whether it was in your school as a young child or in a museum as a historical artefact. And you more than likely have wondered what the purpose of this tool was, well here is a basic explanation of what an abacus is and how they originated. The Latin word abacus has its origins in ancient Greece, it comes from the Greek word Abax or Abakon which means tablet or table sometimes even board or flat surface. It is one of the most archaic and ancient forms of counting or performing basic maths equations. It is most commonly a wooden or stone rectangular shape with carved grooves or painted lines between which beads, pebbles or metal rest and can be moved horizontally.
Each bead or pebble represents a number and therefore the abacus can be used to calculate small amounts or much larger amounts. Whatever the calculation may be the abacus is there to aid the user in solving the problem. While we have calculators and other tools today to make these things much easier years ago this was the only form of aid when it came to solve intense math problems. They were often used by merchants who needed them for basic calculations when they were selling their products to the people.
The oldest surviving counting board is called the Salamis tablet which were used in the Babylonian era circa 300 B.C. This was found in Greece near Athens in 1846. It is made of marble and is somewhat large in size. Another well-known abacus in the historical world is the Chinese abacus. It is dated back to the 1200’s in and was found in China. This one is made of wood and metal. It has rows of beads with varying amounts of beads on each one. Two beads on the top row and five beads one the bottom, this is why it’s often called the 2/5 abacus. There is a similar version in Japan that is called a soroban, it is divided into two levels. This modern-day abacus has one bead on the top level and four beads on the other level. As in usual Japanese tradition there is more meaning to the abacus than just a calculator, the top bead means heaven and the bottom bead means earth, a representation of things greater than man.
Many of cultures have their own version of an abacus, the Russians have one that dates back to the 17th century. And many other countries have found versions of the abacus in their countries. Many of them date back years and years as they were the primitive form of math and a necessary tool to aid them in sales and calculations for day to day life. Nowadays you can see abacus used in schools and other teaching facilities to help young ones learn basic maths equations and simple adding and subtracting techniques. Their history is long and rich and you no doubt are glad that this basic tool lead to the math aids we have today.