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Thousands of years ago there were no numbers to represent two or three. Instead fingers, rocks, sticks or eyes were used to represent numbers. There were neither clocks nor calendars to help keep track of time. The sun and moon were used to distinguish between 1 PM and 4 PM. Most civilizations did not have words for numbers larger than two so they had to use terminology familiar to them such as flocks of sheep, heaps of grain, or lots of people. There was little need for a numeric system until groups of people formed clans, villages and settlements and began a system of bartering and trade that in turn created a demand for currency. How would you distinguish between five and fifty if you could only use the above terminology?
Paper and pencils were not available to transcribe numbers. Other methods were invented for means of communication and teaching of numerical systems. Babylonians stamped numbers in clay by using a stick and depressing it into the clay at different angles or pressures and the Egyptians painted on pottery and cut numbers into stone.
Numerical systems devised of symbols were used instead of numbers. For example, the Egyptians used the following numerical symbols:
The Chinese had one of the oldest systems of numerals that were based on sticks laid on tables to represent calculations. It is as follows:
From about 450 BC the Greeks had several ways to write their numbers, the most common way was to use the first ten letters in their alphabet to represent the first ten numbers. To distinguish between numbers and letters they often placed a mark (/ or %uFFFD) by each letter:
The Roman numerical system is still used today although the symbols have changed from time to time. The Romans often wrote four as IIII instead of IV, I from V. Today the Roman numerals are used to represent numerical chapters of books or for the main divisions of outlines. The earliest forms of Roman numeral values are:
Finger numerals were used by the ancient Greeks, Romans, Europeans of the Middle Ages, and later the Asiatics. Still today you can see children learning to count on our own finger numerical system. The old system is as follows:
From counting by means of %uFFFDflocks%uFFFD to finger symbols our current numerical system has evolved from the Hindu numerals to present day numbers. The journey has taken us from 2400 BC to present day and we still use some of the old numerical systems and symbols. Our system of numerics is ever changing and who knows what it will look like in 2140 AD. Will we still count using our fingers or will mankind invent a new numerical tool? Sanscrit letters of the 11. Century A.D. Apices of Boethius and of the Middle Ages Gubar-numerals of the West Arabs Numerals of the East Arabs Numerals of Maximus Planudes. Devangari-numerals. From the Mirror of the World, printed by Caxton, 1480 From the Bamberg Arithmetic by Wagner, 1488. From De Arts Supp- urtandi by Tonstall, 1522
This chart shows the change of numbers from their ancient to their present-day forms
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