This paper examines from an accounting perspective recent work by Nissen et al. [1993], here regarded as an extension of the archaeological research of Schmandt-Besserat [1977, 1992] and its analysis by Mattessich [1987, 1994]. The transition from the 4th millennium b.c. to the 3rd millennium b.c. featured the use of protocuneiform and cuneiform accounting techniques to replace the older token accounting. This research reinforces the previously made hypothesis [Mattessich, 1987] that the inserting of tokens into a clay container during the last phase of token accounting corresponded to debit entries, while the impressing of tokens on the surface of the container was meant to convey the credit total of an equity. Similarly, in proto-cuneiform bookkeeping, debit entries appear again on one side while the credit total appears on the reverse side, but this time on the clay tablets. Yet, the research also leads to the hypothesis that the “closed double-entry system” of token accounting could not be maintained in the archaic bookkeeping of the subsequent period where, apparently, a debit/credit scheme was used in which only some but not all entries had counter-entries. Finally, the paper illustrates important labor production aspects of archaic bookkeeping and cost accounting which are contrasted to modern budgeting and standard costing.

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