Gross, Marjorie K. Productive Environment Institute, Newport, North Carolina.
Last reviewed:July 2020
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An early mechanical calculator. The abacus likely originated in Babylonia sometime before 1000 BCE. Over the subsequent centuries, it became a commonplace device in many regions of the world. The abacus is still occasionally used as a cognitive computation aid in the Far East, having developed into two different styles in China and Japan. Both the Chinese and the Japanese styles consist of a frame with a crossbeam. They may be made from many different materials, such as wood or brass. Rods or wires carrying sliding beads extend vertically through the crossbeam (Fig. 1). The Chinese suan pan has two beads above the beam on each rod and five beads below. Each rod of the Japanese soroban carries one bead above and four below. Similar to the abacus in both construction and use are the counting frames used in elementary schools, and which are also often referred to as abacuses. Braille versions of the abacus are available for use by those without sight. See also: Arithmetic; Calculators; Mathematics
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