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A History of Accounting: Origins

Have you ever wondered about the origins of the accounting profession and how it has evolved over time? In our first blog post, we will explore the fascinating history of accounting in Mesopotamia, circa 3500 B.C., where some of the oldest known records of commerce were produced. These ancient civilizations, such as the Assyrian, Chaldaean-Babylonian, and Sumerian, laid the groundwork for the accounting practices we know today.

The Mesopotamian Valley: A Center for Commerce and Agriculture

The fertile lands of the Mesopotamian Valley, situated between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, gave rise to prosperous agriculture, service businesses, and small industries. Cities like Babylon and Nineveh became regional commerce hubs, and the Babylonian language became the primary medium of communication for business and politics throughout the Near East. Banking firms emerged, using standard measures of gold and silver, and even extending credit in certain transactions.

The Role of Scribes and Record-Keeping

The Sumerian theocracy, where rulers held most land and animals in trust for their gods, played a crucial role in the development of record-keeping. Legal codes, such as the renowned Code of Hammurabi, evolved to penalize the failure to document transactions. The scribe, akin to today's accountant, was responsible for recording transactions and ensuring compliance with code requirements.

Scribes were employed by temples, palaces, and private firms and were considered prestigious professionals. In a typical transaction, the scribe would record the agreement on a specially prepared clay tablet using a wooden rod with a triangular end. The parties involved would then "sign" their names using their respective seals, often in the form of stone amulets engraved with the owner's mark and religious symbols.

Tablet Preservation and Security Measures

The clay tablets, once inscribed, were dried in the sun or kiln for important transactions requiring a more permanent record. In some cases, a clay envelope was fashioned around the tablet, with the entire transaction rewritten on the outer layer, essentially creating a carbon copy of the original. This method provided a measure of security against alterations, as any changes to the outer layer could be detected by comparing it to the contents of the tablet.

Thank the Scribes of Mesopotamia

The ancient Mesopotamian civilization gave rise to the beginnings of accounting practices that we still use today. The scribes of Mesopotamia played a crucial role in recording transactions and ensuring compliance with legal codes. This rich history provides context and appreciation for the evolution of the accounting profession and the practices we currently implement as QuickBooks professionals. So, the next time you work on a balance sheet or income statement, remember the scribes of Mesopotamia who paved the way for modern accounting.

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