Literally, “ghubār” (…^fÆ) does indeed signify “dust”, not in the sense of the
miraculously appearing house dirt of our days, but rather the finest possible kind
of sand. This led many scientists in the nineteenth century to believe that the
name derived from an ancient means of calculation. Since antiquity, a board of
wood covered with dust (called “lawha” in Maghreb) had been used for this purpose, writing numbers with a stick on it and deleting others in a performative
kind of arithmetic. It complemented the wax tablets of Aristotelian fame. This
setup allowed relatively flexible processing of data, unlike working with clay or
stone, and could be described as volatile “random access memory”, since its fluidity permitted the modification of any grain on the surface at any time.