The Book of Origins

Volume I

Origin of Arabic Numerals

a natural history of numbers


(AIRP, 2009 - HC)

(AuthorHouse 2010)

 Adel S. Bishtawi

Use the menu on the right to access articles and charts



The two untold stories of the universal numeral system


 Part 2  Part 1


Speech is said to be one of the main discoveries that changed history. Writing is another, whether involving numeral or alphabetical shapes, and both were essential tools for the creation of civilisations and the recording of history.


The reader of the pages of this website will find many extracts from the Origin of the Arabic Numerals as well as to a substantial number of tables, charts and illustrations supporting the topics discussed in the book particularly a large number of hand and finger numeral formations using both the eastern and western numeral pictograms. A number of PowerPoint and PDF presentations covering various aspects of Arabic cipher system and its numerals are now available to download free of charge.


We expect this websites to remain ‘under construction’ for a long time. The main reason is that the continuous analysis of the original roots of ancient Arabic and the work aiming to reconstruct the grammatical structure and vocabulary of that most ancient of continuously used language will provide new surprises almost at every turn. For this reason, the origin of the Arabic numerals system has become a modest part in the first part of The Book of Origins which was launched in London in November 2010. It is unsafe to suggest a timetable for the publication of the next three parts but a very rough estimate is 4-5 years. The preparation of English versions of the four parts of The Book of Origins in English will be a major undertaking hence the decision to involve a select number of researchers in this project.


Interesting discoveries whether already made or expected along the long road of research will be made available to readers of this site. Patience is required but it must be realised that most of our research is original and extends to pre-historical times. Along with archaeology, carbon-dating, genealogy, palaeontology and other scientific branches dedicated to the study of human beings and their civilisation, we will be providing supporting evidence based on analysing the human concepts, situations, environment and cultural, innovative and scientific achievements of our ancestors as expressed by the all-comprehensive original linguistic roots of ancient Arabic.


Lastly, an important clarification has to be made. In the Origin of the Arabic Numerals we have used the terms ‘Ursemitisch’ and ‘Proto-Semitic’ to describe the ancient mother of Arabic. If either term is meant to describe an ancient tongue that can be viewed as the linguistic mother of some 70 languages that include Arabic, then we have made no mistake in the book provided it is stripped from its possible religious undertones. Otherwise, let us apologize now for inadvertently making a mistake.



How to prove the Arabian origination
of the Arabic numeral system in 5 illustrations


Having analyzed more than 50% of bi-consonantal roots of Arabic, we are certain that Arabic is not a mere descendent of the ancient tongue – it is the ancient tongue or ancient Arabic. Let’s say for now that ancient Arabic is basically a natural language. Tens of original roots can be described as onomatopoeic. They are not the ‘tic-tock’ type. These are essential roots from which tri-consonantals were coined to express situational linguistic cases such as ‘fly’, ‘drag’, ‘chase’, ‘flee’, ‘fall down’, etc. There lies the most important characteristic of ancient Arabic – the roots are simple words but all comprehensive linguistic cases banded together to produce another unique feature of ancient Arabic – The Linguistic Units.


Nevertheless, tribes living in the Arabian Peninsula prior to the middle agrarian era didn’t describe themselves as ‘Arabs’. It is a relatively new term. We feel more comfortable in describe ancient Arabic as ancient Arabian in the same way we describe those living in Europe as ‘Europeans’ and their tongues as ‘European tongues’. Arabs do speak Arabic but it is a clear anachronism to say that ancient Arabians were Arabs. The bi-consonantal root of ‘Arab’ means a large number of people. It was a by-product of an era of abundance that changed the world – the agricultural era.


How do we know that for certain?


We don’t for certain.


Let's say that we, humans, are not certain of any of the biggest existentialist and religious issues that dominate our thinking and beliefs. Let's also add that we have doubts whether many of these big issues can be ever proven conclusively and without any doubt. However, what we know for certain as far as our original question is concerned is that another word for camel is derived from the same root. We have a rough idea of when Arabs began to domesticate camels for trade.


How do we know that?


Because the word ‘camel’ (جمل) is not a tri-consonantal root as every one believes. It is a type of compound that means ‘the thing that can be loaded with a great deal of things’. We are hopeful that we will at one stage identify a tri-consonantal that can be considered as a ‘root’. We haven’t yet. Arabic tri-consonantals considered by every scholar and his uncle as roots are not roots at all but derivatives from bi-consonantals. The implications can be phenomenal enabling us to reconstruct the history of modern human beings, their culture, civilization and many aspects of their daily life.


Again, the agricultural era was the main cause for a linguistic revolution created to generate sufficient words to express all things agricultural and for which several hundred words were needed. No doubt, bi-consonantals were still used extensively at the time, as they are today, but the bulk of bi-consonantals belong to the hunting era. Let’s then ask ourselves in what era did ancient Arabians used mono-consonantal words. Or maybe we should ask ourselves instead in what geographical area they spoke that mono-consonantal language.


It does look as though etymology can be history at least as far as ancient Arabian is concerned. There can be two narratives of history or even three or ten but only one chronicle - one correct chronicle. We are now certain that such a chronicle exists in the original concepts and ideas embodied in bi-consonantal roots. Human beings can lie and they do but words cannot. Even the word 'lie' does not pretended to be anything but an expression of a lie. Not all events and concepts can be reconstructed etymologically. We have found many ways that can help us identify missing roots and reconstruct the linguistic units they belong to. Nevertheless there will exist misreading, misunderstanding and misinterpretation but many of the records provided by etymology can be viewed as crystallized truth. Compared to the mountains of lies and re-worked facts found usually in what we call 'history' books, the etymological history of modern human beings appear to be unadulterated facts. Lying is an advanced human concept. Truth is even more so. The word 'correct' (صح) in ancient Arabic was a concept derived from simple addition and subtraction using pebbles. The root 'lie' comes from a situation akin to walking on soft ground. It will take some time to re-build pre-historic dictionaries but in many aspects and spheres, we are confident that at the end of all the work ahead we will have a history we can teach our children with confidence.


A great deal of pulping lies ahead before our minds can be cleansed of the rubbish we store inside. After that we may begin to understand ourselves and the world around us sensibly. We may begin to view ourselves as one family - a family of human beings who discovered at the dawn of their history that the odds against them were stacked high but they did survive and flourished. Their fears were natural but awesome and persistent. The word 'miracle' is the daughter of weakness. It was simply a wish.  But we owe our existence today not the wish but to the determination of turning that wish into reality.

[1] Karl Menninger, Number Words and Number Symbols, 1992.

[2] James Gilchrist, Philosophic Etymology, or Rational Grammar, (1816), pp. 24-25.

  Part 1


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