Prehistoric numerals

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).

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.


Main article: Tally marks

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 various types of proto-writing. The Cuneiform script develops out of proto-writing associated with keeping track of goods during the Chalcolithic.

Mokshan numerals

Old Mokshan numerals[1][2]

The Moksha people, whose existence dates to about the beginning of the 1st millennium BC, had a numeral system.[3] The numerals were tally marks carved on wood, drawn on clay or birch bark. In some places they were preserved until the beginning of 20th century mostly among small traders, bee-keepers, and village elders. These numerals still can be found on old shepherd and tax-gatherer staffs, apiaries, and pottery.[4] [5] [6] [7]

Old world

New world

Early numerals in Unicode

Further information: Unicode numerals

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

See also



  1. Drevnosti mordovskogo naroda. - Saransk, 1941, P.33
  2. Мордва: Историко-этнографические очерки. Саранск,1981
  3. Materialy po istorii mordvy VIII - IX vv. Dnevnik arkheologicheskikh raskopok P.P.Ivanova. - Morshansk, 1952
  4. Martyanov V.N., Nadkin D.T. K voprosu o finno-ugorskoy sisteme schisleniya//Materialy po arkheologii i etnographii Mordovii. - Saransk, 1975
  5. Drevnosti mordovskogo naroda. - Saransk, 1941, P.33
  6. Kniga pisma i mery pistsov Dmitriya Yuryevicha Pushechnikova da podyachego Afanasiya Kostyayeva mordovskikh i burtasskikh zemel 132-go, 133-go i 134-go godov (GAFKE, Moscow Oruzheynaya palata fund, opis №33, d. № 3535
  7. Мартьянов В. Н. Пиктографические изображения на парях — свадебных сундуках мордвы Горьковской области // Тр. НИИЯЛИЭ при Совете Министров Мордовской АССР. — Саранск, 1974. — Вып. 45

Sources cited

External links

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