COMPLEX COUNTING TOKENS

MS 4522/1
MS Short Title COMPLEX COUNTING TOKENS
Text COMPLEX COUNTING TOKENS REPRESENTING 1 JAR OF OIL
Description Counting token in stone, Syria/Sumer/Highland Iran, ca. 4000-3200 BC, 1 ovoid token, diam. 2,0x2,3 cm, circular line at the top and piercing at the bottom.
Context For a drum shaped token with zigzag band, see MS 4522/2 (Schmandt-Besserat 3:72, not on website dispaly), and for disk type tokens, see MSS 4522/3-8 (not on website display).
Commentary

Same type as Schmandt-Besserat 6:14, but pierced at the bottom. The complex tokens were a natural development from the plain tokens (see MSS 5067/1-8) with new forms, added lines, dots and various designs to cover the more advanced accounting needs. They were first kept in baskets, leather poaches, bowls, etc., and then to some extent within bulla-envelopes (see MS 4631), but mainly attached to strings fastened to a bulla (see MS 4523).

They lasted until ca. 3200 BC, when they were superseded by counting tablets and pictographic tablets. Some of the earliest tablets have actual tokens impressed into the clay to form numbers and pictographs, and many of the pictographs were illustrations of tokens. An account of 14 jars of oil would just be 14 tokens of the present type. On a pictographic tablet this representation would be substituted by the number 14 and the pictograph of a jar with lid looking similar to the token. This was the first break-through of the invention of writing. For such a pictographic tablet, see MS 4551. (All 8 tokens MSS 4522/1-8 are illustrated here, text: Counting tokens representing a Jar of oil and various textiles, Near East, ca. 4000-3200 BC.)

Exhibited The Norwegian Intitute of Palaeography and Historical Philology (PHI), Oslo, 13.10.2003-06.2005.
Place of origin Syria / Sumer / Highland Iran
Dates 3500-3200 BC

Location