New discovery on prehistoric book keeping

Examples of clay book keeping tokens discovered at the dig in Turkey Photo: Ziyaret Tepe Archaeological Project

Archaeologists from Cambridge University have discovered a prehistoric form of book keeping continued even after our ancestors could read and write.

The discovery was made at an archaeological dig in southeast Turkey. There scientists uncovered a large number of clay tokens which date from a time when writing was commonplace, and two thousand years after it was believed this form of book keeping had died out.

Researchers compare it to the continued use of pens in the age of the word processor.

“Complex writing didn’t stop the use of the abacus, just as the digital age hasn’t wiped out pencils and pens.

In fact, in a literate society there are multiple channels of recording information that can be complementary to each other. In this case both prehistoric clay tokens and cuneiform writing used together.”

– Dr John MacGinnis, Cambridge’s MacDonald Institute for Archaeological Research

The tokens were discovered in what archaeologists describe as an ancient 'loading bay' at the main administrative building in Tušhan’s lower town, along with many written cuneiform clay tablets as well as weights.

Over 300 tokens were found in two rooms near the back of the building that Dr MacGinnis says was used as a delivery area.

Archaeologists say that, while writing was a more advanced accounting technology, by combining it with the flexibility of clay tokens, the ancient Assyrians created a record-keeping system of greater sophistication.

“The inventions of recording systems are milestones in the human journey, and any finds which contribute to the understanding of how they came about makes a basic contribution to mapping the progress of mankind.”

– Dr John MacGinnis, Cambridge’s MacDonald Institute for Archaeological Research