Abacus in the world

Mathematics 8 May Abacus in the World Introduction An abacus is a mechanical computational device that was invented centuries ago for the purposes of computation. In itself, the abacus is not a counting device, but rather a mechanical aid to counting (Wells 4). This is because it is only used to keep track of subtractions, sums and carries among others, while the user of the abacus performs mental calculations (Kaye and Castillo 466). Keoke and Porterfield define it as a “ portable calculating device using a frame with rods that are strung with beads” (1). Corbin on the other hand defines it as “ a mechanical frame containing several rods on which are mounted wooden beads which can be slid manually into different positions and combinations to represent numbers” (188). Materials used to make early abacuses in different regions varied. For example, among the Maya and Aztec people of Mesoamerica, maize kernels threaded on strings were used instead of beads, while the Inca people who lived in Peru centuries ago had an abacus that was made up of a “ tray with compartments that were arranged in rows in which counters were moved in order to make calculations” (Keoke and Porterfield 1).
History of the Abacus
The abacus originated from the Middle East thousands of years ago. Jain asserts that its evolution took place in 3000 B. C. (7). Darling points out that “ the word appears to come from the Hebrew ẚbẚq (dust) or the Phoenician abak (sand) via the Greek abax, which refers to a small tray covered with sand to hold the pebbles steady” (3). Over the centuries, there have been different types of abacuses. The first type was called suanpan and was used in China in 1300 (Barnes-Svarney and Svarney 349). There is no agreement regarding who invented this type of abacus but it is that believed it was the Chinese, Japanese or Koreans. Barnes-Svarney and Svarney affirm that “ although merchants used this type of abacus for standard addition and subtraction operations, it could also be used to determine square and cube roots of numbers” (349). The other type of abacus was the soroban or the Japanese abacus. Apart from the fact that it lacked a bead in the upper and lower deck of every column, it was very similar to the Chinese abacus. The Roman abacus also had one bead lacking from the upper and lower deck of every column making it very similar to the Japanese abacus. According to Barnes-Svarney and Svarney, “ the Russians also have their own version of an abacus; it uses ten beads on each wire, and a single deck” (349). To separate the two wires, a wire with fewer beads is placed between them.
The Rule of the Abacus in Different Nations
As mentioned earlier, the types of abacuses used in different nations vary. Examples are the Chinese, Greek, French, German and Roman abacus (Hutton 1). The Roman and Greek abacus used by medieval Europeans used a place value system, where a wire or line was left empty to represent zero. According to Darling, “ the written notations didn’t have a symbol for zero, until it was introduced in Europe in 1202 by Fibonacci, via the Arabs and the Hindus” (3). Rather than being split into decks, the Roman and Greek abacuses consist of a single board with beads attached to the rods. For the Roman abacus, a Roman numeral positioning system was used, while for the Russian abacus, “ it was not beaded to powers of ten but to the national currency and hence used primarily for fiscal transactions” (Ratzan 106). The Chinese abacus is different from the European abacus. This is because instead of being a single board, it is split into two decks. The upper deck has two beads on each rod, while the lower deck has five beads that represent digits 0 to 4. Moving all the lower deck beads up resets them to their original position, while one bead in the top deck is used as a carry when moved down. Moving both beads in the upper deck reset them and this requires moving up a bead on the lower deck, so that it can act as a carry. This way, “ the result of the computation is read off from the beads clustered near the separator beam between the upper and lower decks” (Darling 3). For the Japanese abacus, there are only single beads on the rods of the upper deck and four beads on the rods of the lower deck (Bud and Warner 3).
The abacus is a famous device used in different parts of the world to aid in counting. The first abacus originated in the Middle East thousands of years ago. With time, different types of the abacus appeared, for example the Russian abacus. To this day, variations exist among the different types of the abacus as discussed in this paper.
Works Cited
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