The Accounting Historians Journal Vol. 11, No. 2 Fall 1984
G. A. Swanson TENNESSEE TECHNOLOGICAL UNIVERSITY
THE "ROOTS" OF ACCOUNTING
Abstract: This paper presents some evidence that rudimentary accounting (eco-nomic recordkeeping) may have predated both counting and writing.
In the past ten years numerous articles, books and other pro-ductions have exposed the "roots" of various segments of society. Such fascination with the discovery of one's past might excuse accountants for momentarily glancing away from proforma state-ments of the future to catch a glimpse of their own "roots." Just how deep into history, or prehistory, do the "roots" of accounting reach? There is some evidence that accounting (economic record-keeping) may have predated both counting and writing.
Primitive Recording—Real System Space Ordering— A Precursor of Mathematics?
Perhaps the simplest function of what is currently called account-ing is the arranging of the elements of a given system to provide a particular required piece of information. For example, all of the goods "owned" by an individual are placed in a space designated as "his/hers." Such "real system space ordering" may be the initial expression of the recording function. If this is the case, accounting has "roots" that reach very deeply into history.
There is evidence that the concept of ordinal (directly space/time related) numbering may have preceded that of cardinal (quantita-tive) numbering.1 The ceremonial rites of very ancient peoples en-acting creation myths required the specific time ordering of the actors. A similar rudimentary sense of numbering has been shown to exist also in certain higher animals.2 Ball describes the spatial ordering required by the counting efforts of primitive people as follows:
Up to ten it is comparatively easy to count, but primitive people find great difficulty in counting higher numbers; ap-