© System Source

Chinese Abacus (SuanPan)

Prior to 1573

Our Museum Curator, Bob Roswell, received an abacus as a gift. When he tried to learn to use it with a book called "The Japanese Abacus," the abacus did not work. The book was about the Japanese abacus which has has four earth beads and one heaven bead. But the gift was a Chinese abacus (suanpan) with five earth beads and two heaven beads.

The moral of the story is that we have a very long history of incompatible computer systems.

The Chinese abacus computes in both decimal and hexadecimal.

It's origin are unknown but it is known to have been used as early as 750 BCE in Babylonia and China and is therefore one of the oldest known calculation tools.