Today’s Accountants Owe Their Careers to Early Storage Experts
When our hunter-gather ancestors were wandering the earth in search of the day’s dinner, their math skills were fairly primitive. Archeologists tell us that hunter-gatherers generally could count to around 4; anything beyond that was termed “a whole lot.” Three or four berries were hardly worth the trouble, but a whole lot of berries was a feast, and no one wanted to waste time counting them when they could be eating them.
But then our ancestors settled down and started storing things. Food, naturally, was the first thing to be stored. Ancient storerooms for food are found throughout the world, some of them still holding containers of grain and preserved meats. As agriculture improved, food surpluses developed, requiring still more storage.
Then these surpluses of food began to be traded for luxury items – nicer furs, better sandals, polished stones in rare metals. The furs and sandals and jewelry, in their turn, had to be stored safely away from vermin and thieves, and secure stone storerooms began to be common. The Egyptian pyramids had numerous rooms for such luxury items – giant storage facilities for the afterlife.
This trading of surpluses was the beginning of commerce, and although it began simply enough as one-to-one swaps, it quickly evolved in complexity. The fellows in charge of the storerooms had to keep track of how many jars of grain they had on hand when the chief wanted to trade for a large quantity of furs. Then they had to keep track of how many furs they had in storage. Thus began the tally sticks and clay tablets on which inventory quantities were marked. And thus began the business of accounting.
The vizier, as the storage expert was termed in ancient Egypt, eventually came to be responsible for managing the kingdom’s commercial transactions and storing the king’s treasure. Staying on top of all the various inventories was simply too much for one person, and the vizier’s staff of inventory managers (i.e., accountants) managed all the clay tablets and tally sticks that tracked the fluctuations in inventory. From this humble beginning, numbers were developed, mathematics was born, and today, CPAs can thank the ancient storage managers for creating their valued and highly respected profession.
And although the technology has become far more sophisticated – RFID inventory management, multilevel rack systems, high density shelving — storage and accounting are still intertwined, and 21st century CPAs can consult with storage experts whenever an inventory management question arises.