**P. Saravanan, GTA, Ontario**

# What is an Abacus?

## History of Abacus:

Abacus is a Latin word that has its origins in the Greek words abax or abakon (meaning “table” or “tablet”) which in turn, possibly originated from the Semitic word abq, meaning “sand” 1.

Abacus or 算 盘 (suan4 pan2) in Chinese was a widely used computing machine before the invention of modern computers. The mathematics of abacus is called 珠算 (zhu1 suan4) in Chinese. Although it has been used for thousands of years in businesses all around the world, abacus is losing to computers as a practical computation tool.

Then why should we learn abacus? Chances are you won’t always have a calculator with you when you go shopping. But you’ll still need to be able to add, subtract, multiply or divide. So it’s important to know and feel confident about doing sums in your mind.

There are various forms of abacus, but the principles are all the same.

A Chinese abacus instrument looks like below:

## Heaven and earth beads

The Chinese abacus has 2 beads in the upper deck (heaven beads) and 5 beads in the lower deck (earth beads).

*Each heaven bead in the upper deck has a value of 5; each earth bead in the lower deck has a value of 1. Beads are considered counted, when moved towards the central bar that separates the two decks.*

## Why does the abacus exist?

It is difficult to imagine counting without numbers, but there was a time when written numbers did not exist. The earliest counting device was the human hand and its fingers. Then, as larger quantities (larger than ten human-fingers could represent) were counted, various natural items like pebbles and twigs were used to help count. Merchants who traded goods not only needed a way to count goods they bought and sold, but also to calculate the cost of those goods. Until numbers were invented, counting devices were used to make everyday calculations. The abacus is one of many counting devices invented to help count large numbers.

## Modern Times Abacus

**Modern Times:** The Suan-pan, the Soroban and the Schoty are from the period c. 1200 A.D to the present.

Abacus is a Latin word that has its origins in the Greek words abax or abakon (meaning “table” or “tablet”) which in turn, possibly originated from the Semitic word abq, meaning “sand”. The abacus is an instrument, a manual tool invented by the Chinese 2000 years ago. We offer training using the Japanese Soroban abacus, which is has one upper row of beads and four lower rows. We have found the Soroban abacus particularly effective for teaching mathematical calculating skills to young children.

The abacus is a tool used by the Chinese since about 500 BC for the simplest of calculations: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, as well as fractions and square roots. A Chinese abacus is made up of a wood frame divided into two parts separated by a beam, with an upper deck of two rows of beads and a lower deck of five rows of beads. A series of vertical rods allows the wooden beads to slide freely. The abacus as we know it today did not appear in China until about 1200 A.D. Over time the abacus traveled to Japan and evolved into what it is called today: the soroban. A soroban is made up of a wooden frame divided into two parts separated by a beam, with upper deck of one row of beads and a lower deck of four rows of beads.