General Science, Mathematics, and Technology


When and where did the concept of “numbers” and counting first develop?

The human adult (including some of the higher animals) can discern the numbers one through four without any training. After that people must learn to count. To count requires a system of number manipulation skills, a scheme to name the numbers, and some way to record the numbers. Early people began with fingers and toes, and progressed to shells and pebbles. In the fourth millenniumB.C.E. in Elam (near what is today Iran along the Persian Gulf), accountants began using unbaked clay tokens instead of pebbles. Each represented one order in a numbering system: a stick shape for the number one, a pellet for ten, a ball for 100, and so on. During the same period, another clay-based civilization in Sumer in lower Mesopotamia invented the same system.


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