Early Counting and Writing:


Archeological evidence is the only evidence that we have of the origins of counting.  Bones and sticks that
have been inscribed with notches represent the earliest indication of record keeping.  The oldest of these, a
baboon’s fibula, was found in Swaziland, a country in southern Africa.  This bone has been dated to about
35,000 BC; it contains 29 notches and is thought to have been used to catalogue the lunar cycle, similar to the
“calendar sticks” still used in Namibia today.  Many bones and sticks similar to this one have been unearthed
in Africa, Asia and Europe.  These artifacts contain tally marks, which are often separated into groupings, but
there are no outstanding theories that attempt to explain the groupings, or what they may have represented.

Using tally marks quickly became outdated as many civilizations began to develop number systems that were
much more efficient and only moderately less intuitive.  Many of these systems began in ancient times, and
similar to the modern system which is based on ten, these ancient systems were based on such numbers as
5, 12, 20, and 60.  The Sumerians developed a system of numbers before 2,500 BC that was based on 60.  
You might find it surprising that this Sumerian number system is still used today.  Contemporary astronomers
use “arc seconds” and “arc minutes,” which are number systems derived from the ancient Sumerian system, to
measure angles in the sky.  Also most modern countries use seconds and minutes to measure time and they
divide their hours and minutes into 60 equal portions.  This is the base 60 (sexagesimal) system that became
popular and remains popular to this day partly because the number 60 has many factors and is easy to


Mesopotamia was the first civilization known to modern man to have used a system for writing and counting.  
Despite the fact that this was probably the birthplace of written language it is widely believed that The Mayan,
Egyptian, Indus, and Chinese systems may have developed completely independent of the Mesopotamian.

The first writing system based on an alphabet was created by the Phoenicians.  Using an alphabet made
writing more efficient and allowed readers to learn how to read much more quickly. This Phoenician system
was based on a consonantal alphabet and it omitted all vowels.  Even though our modern writing system
includes vowels, it descended from the Phoenician, as did the Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and Latin
writing systems.
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