Early Concepts of Number and Counting


Before primitive man had grasped the concept of number, the written word or even speech, he was able to count. This was important for various reasons, including keeping track of food supplies, sending messages, trading between villages or even keeping track of how many animals were in a herd. There were various ways in which this was done. However, whether these primitive people realised it or not, the underlying principle behind their methods of counting was one-to-one correspondence. This correspondence between the objects being counting and their counting aid, enabled primitive man to make the first important steps towards an abstract counting system.

Over time and at varying places around the world different methods for counting arose. With the use of counting aids such as collections of pebbles, tally sticks and knotted strings, primitive people were able to count and keep records.  However, all around the world the use of the hand was common as a way of representing numbers. In some cases, such body counting was extended to counting with other parts of the body. There were some cultures that used points over the entire body to aid in counting.