We have a lot to thank accountants for. It’s great when clients thank us for sorting out tax issues or taking away some of the headaches of running a business. But did you know we were responsible for the invention of writing?

I’ve been reading a fascinating article on the BBC website about the deciphering of some 5,000-year-old clay tablets found in the ruins of the ancient city of Uruk, in what is now Iraq.

This was one of the world’s first true cities and the find looked to hold the key to the development of writing. Were they religious texts? Poems? A chance for man to express his deepest beliefs and innermost fears and longings?  

No – they were accounts. It turns out the tablets, and others from across the region dating back 9,000 years, were a way of keeping count of items. ‘Tokens shaped like loaves could be used to count loaves. The ones shaped like jars could be used to count jars,’ explains the BBC article. You didn’t need to know how to count; you just looked at two quantities and verified they were the same. 

The tokens could be used to add and subtract. People could create contracts, with records of future payments to be made.

Uruk’s accountants also developed abstract symbols for numbers, so rather than drawing five sheep they would use a symbol for five. They could express quantities in the hundreds and thousands.

They also give us the world’s first written evidence of compound interest.

 So literacy wasn’t, as the ancient Egyptians believed, a gift from baboon-faced Thoth, the god of knowledge. It was a gift from accountants.

 And if life then was anything like it is now, no doubt some of those early accountants are still waiting to hear back from the Uruk Tax Office…

 For a more modern approach to accounting, contact us at Altus Business Consulting. Unlike Thoth, we promise we won’t make you worship us.