Jumat, 01 Oktober 2010

Token accounting in ancient Mesopotamia

Source : Wikipedia

The earliest accounting records were found amongst the ruins of ancient Babylon, Assyria and Sumeria, which date back more than 7,000 years. The people of that time relied on primitive accounting methods to record the growth of crops and herds. Because there is a natural season to farming and herding, it is easy to count and determine if a surplus had been gained after the crops had been harvested or the young animals weaned.

During the period 8000–3700 BCE, the Fertile Crescent witnessed the spread of small settlements supported by agricultural surplus. Tokens, shaped into simple geometric forms such as cones or spheres, were used for stewardship purposes in relation to identifying and securing this surplus, and are examples of accounts that referred to lists of personal property.[10] Some of them bore markings in the form of incised lines and impressed dots. Neolithic community leaders collected the surplus at regular intervals in the form of a share of the farmers’ flocks and harvests. In turn, the accumulated communal goods were redistributed to those who could not support themselves, but the greatest part was earmarked for the performance of religious rituals and festivals. In 7000 BCE, there were only some 10 token shapes because the system exclusively recorded agricultural goods, each representing one of the farm products levied at the time, such as grain, oil and domesticated animals.The number of token shapes increased to about 350 around 3500 BCE, when urban workshops started contributing to the redistribution economy. Some of the new tokens stood for raw materials such as wool and metal and others for finished products among which textiles, garments, jewelry, bread, beer and honey.

The invention of a form of bookkeeping using clay tokens represented a huge cognitive leap for mankind.[12] The cognitive significance of the token system was to foster the manipulation of data. Compared to oral information passed on from one individual to the other, tokens were extra-somatic, that is outside the human mind. As a result, the Neolithic accountants were no longer the passive recipients of someone else's knowledge, but they took an active part in encoding and decoding data. The token system substituted miniature counters for the real goods, which eliminated their bulk and weight and allowed dealing with them in abstraction by patterning, the presentation of data in particular configurations. As a result, heavy baskets of grains and animals difficult to control could be easily counted and recounted. The accountants could add, subtract, multiply and divide by manually moving and removing counters.

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