Prehistoric counting


Counting in prehistory was first assisted by using body parts, primarily the fingers. This is reflected in the etymology of certain number names, such as in the names of ten and hundred in the Proto-Indo-European numerals, both containing the root *dḱ also seen in the word for "finger" (Latin digitus, cognate to English toe).

Cast of a carved reindeer antler with tally marks, from around 15,000-9,500 BCE

Early systems of counting using tally marks appear in the Upper Paleolithic. The first more complex systems develop in the Ancient Near East together with the development of early writing out of proto-writing systems.


Numerals originally developed from the use of tally marks as a counting aid, with the oldest examples being about 35,000 to 25,000 years old.


Counting aids like tally marks become more sophisticated in the Near Eastern Neolithic, developing into numerical digits in various types of proto-writing during the Chalcolithic.

Old worldEdit

New worldEdit

Early numerals in UnicodeEdit

Unicode's Supplementary Multilingual Plane has a number of code point ranges reserved for prehistoric or early historic numerals:

See alsoEdit



Sources citedEdit

  • Evans, Arthur J. (1900). "Writing in Prehistoric Greece". Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 30: 91–93. JSTOR 2842725.

External linksEdit

  • Birch, David (March 24, 2010). "Pre Historic Era 100.000 bc - 1438 bc". History of Computing. Archived from the original on 2011-11-21.
  • jonhays. "How burning tally-sticks destroyed the British Houses of Parliament". Generating Arithmetic. Fortune City. Archived from the original on 2008-12-05.