Counting: the history and evolution of number systems and counting Essay.

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A number system refers to a set of operations and mental entities together with symbols systems such as tallies, number words, and numerical sign systems and of symbolic activities like counting, multiplication or addition representing them (Ifrah 15). These systems evolved during the era of development of most of the world civilizations. This evolution did not only change number representation and numbers but also the implication of the word ‘number’ itself.


From the ancient times, the number system has evolved and developed greatly; starting from the Number systems of Babylonian/Sumerian, Egypt, Greek, Chinese, Mayan to the modern and most widely utilized Indo-Arabic system. Sumer, a part of ancient Mesopotamia and the current day Iraq, was the origin of writing, agriculture, the plow, the wheel, irrigation, the arc and several other inventions (Robson 75). The Sumerians developed the earliest known system of writing- a pictographic system of writing called cuneiform script, utilizing characters that were wedge shaped and inscribed on clay tablets. Sumerian mathematics was created mainly due to bureaucratic requirements during the settlement of their civilization that was highly dependent on agriculture, it was also used in settling land associated problems i.e. citizen taxation, land measurements etc. Sumerians were perhaps the first society to have created and allocated symbols to objects so as to assign them quantity, this created numeral system and numerals (Robson 80). The Sexagesimal system that was used by the Babylonian and Sumerian was based on the base of 60. These two civilizations lacked a symbol to represent zero, however, they did utilize the idea of zero. When expressing zero, they simply left a blank gap in the number. The Babylonian numbers utilized a system of true place value, where in the left column, digits representing larger values were written, this was almost similar to the current decimal system, however, instead of using base 10, they were utilizing base 60 instead, this was completely different from Greeks, Romans and Egyptians numbers.


Around 6000 BC, ancient Egyptians settled along the fertile valley of the Nile, thereafter they started to record seasons and lunar phases patterns, both for religious reasons and agriculture. They had developed a hieroglyphs based system of writing in around 3000 BC.  The Egyptians were the first civilization to utilize a number system based on base 10 where numerals were represented by hieroglyphs, this dates backs to as early as 2700 BC (Menninger 170).

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