Who invented the abacus? An abacus is a tool used to perform simple arithmetic operations such as adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. In addition, the abacus allows us to extract the square root and cube root of the numbers. It is the oldest method of calculation and is believed to have been developed in China.

It is not known exactly who invented the abacus. However, the design of the abacus that we all know was created by the Roman philosopher Boethius, who was dedicated to the study of geometry and mathematics.

Abacus middle ages, region of origin Middle East

The design of the abacus is quite simple, it consists of a wooden box with 10 parallel bars of wire or rope through which 10 movable balls run.

The parts of the abacus are the frame, the crossbar, beads, bars, bottom, and top cover. The top cover has a value of 5 and each count of the bottom cover is worth 1. The counts are considered counted when they are moved towards the crossbar that divides the two covers.

The bars are made up of beads inserted into a rod through which the beads slide, they represent the numbers from 0 to 9.

The first row on the right side is the units, then the second row is the tens, the third is the hundreds, and follows. Each row is divided into two. The bottom row has 5 beads and each can be moved towards the central division that represents a unit.

The top row is made up of 2 beads, each one moving towards the division and representing 5 units.

Who Invented The Abacus?

Abacus Origins

Who Invented The Abacus Tool

More than 3,000 years ago, in the Zhou dynasty in China, there were already ceramic beads that were used to count. The first book that reflects the use of calculations with the abacus was called Arithmetic Chronicle and was written by Xu Yue.

Between 960 and 1,279 AD, during the Song dynasty in China, people used modern abacus regularly to perform arithmetic operations. Its use was increasingly popular and reached the Ming dynasty between 1368 and 1644.

The Chinese abacus extended its use to other countries such as Korea in the year 1400 and to Japan in the year 1600, before reaching all of Southeast Asia.

The abacuses were not, all the same, they had slight differences between them. The Chinese abacus had a bead at the top and five at the bottom. Instead, the Japanese abacus had a design whereby it had a single bead at the top and four at the bottom.

In the Middle Ages, the Mongols extended the use of the abacus that was native to China and brought it to Russia.

In these times the abacus was used to teach children to perform the simplest arithmetic operations but also to perform calculations when trading. During the 13th century in China, an abacus table was standardized. This element consisted of a table covered with a cloth on which the lines with the beads were drawn with chalk and in this way the calculations were carried out.

The abacus table was pretty used in Britain but generally, in other regions, it was not too popular. As the Indo-Arabic numerals developed, the abacus fell into disuse in Europe as a calculation tool. The abacus was used until the 18th century. After the French revolution, starting in 1789, the abacus was banned in schools and in-state administrations since the numbers began to be used. In the American continent, the Incas used a type of abacus that they called quipus.

The Aztecs also developed another abacus-like instrument that they made from wood, string, and corn kernels. Both instruments used it to perform calculations or arithmetic operations.

The designs of the abacuses originating in America are their own since they had not yet had contact with other civilizations such as Asians or Europeans.

The abacuses were built in different materials such as bronze, wood, marble, bamboo in others, and also in different sizes since some were small and others were tabletops. Some abacuses have small balls with certain figures to be able to place them in the figure’s box and thus make larger calculations. It was Gilberto Aurillac who developed this idea in order to solve more complex operations.

Large numbers of civilizations and peoples used the abacus or the counting board to perform mathematical operations they needed.

The abacus is considered the first computer in history since it allowed people to do simple mathematical operations that they needed for their daily life.

The states used the abacuses to carry out the financial calculations of the taxes and the farmers to be able to commercialize their products. So the abacus was a widely used element in various areas of ancient societies.

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Abacus Use Today

In some remote Asian villages, even today they use the abacus to teach children or to do calculations when trading.

The abacus greatly helped people learn math and calculations when the calculator and computers did not yet exist. In the West, the abacus is considered a didactic toy that is used to teach children basic concepts of mathematics. Some also use it as a decorative element since they do not give use to this element.

This shows that in modern times the abacus is still useful despite the abundance of calculators and computers that exist.

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A few years ago IBM built a molecular abacus, this being the most modern of all abacuses in current history. In this abacus the beads are equivalent to molecules of a size less than a nanometer, that is, one-millionth of a millimeter. The molecular abacus is executed by a conical-shaped device that has an atom at the tip. The control of this abacus is carried out by a tunnel effect microscope.