Updating the “abstract–concrete” distinction in Ancient Near Eastern numbers

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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).
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