What is it about?

The characterization of early token-based accounting using a concrete concept of number, later numerical notations an abstract one, has become well entrenched in the literature. After reviewing its history and assumptions, this article challenges the abstract–concrete distinction, presenting an alternative view of change in Ancient Near Eastern number concepts, wherein numbers are abstract from their inception and materially bound when most elaborated. The alternative draws on the chronological sequence of material counting technologies used in the Ancient Near East—fingers, tallies, tokens, and numerical notations—as reconstructed through archaeological and textual evidence and as interpreted through Material Engagement Theory, an extended-mind framework in which materiality plays an active role (Malafouris, 2013).

Featured Image


I am interested in how societies become numerate by using and recruiting material forms into the cognitive system for numbers over generations of collaborative effort. The manuovisually engaged domain of material forms is a primary mechanism for realizing and elaborating numerical concepts. I also look at the effect this elaborational mechanism has on conceptual content, and what this might augur about the future of human cognition.

Dr. Karenleigh A. Overmann
University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Updating the Abstract-Concrete Distinction in Ancient Near Eastern Numbers, November 2021, Center for Open Science, DOI: 10.31235/osf.io/kxd7j.
You can read the full text:



The following have contributed to this page