Medieval Tally Stick Discovered in Germany
The well-preserved tally stick was used in the Middle Ages to count the debts owed by the holder in a time when most people were unable to read or write.
“Debts would have been carved into the stick in the form of small notches. Then the stick would have been split lengthways, with the creditor and the borrower each keeping a half,” explained Hille.
The two halves would then be put together again on the day repayment was due in order to compare them, with both sides hoping that they matched.
Note the security built into this primitive contract system. Neither side can cheat—alter the notches—because if they do, the two sides won’t match. I wonder what the dispute resolution system was: what happened when the two sides didn’t match.
EDITED TO ADD (5/14): In comments, lollardfish answers my question: “One then gets accused of fraud in court. In most circumstances, local power/reputation wins in fraud cases, since it’s not about finding of fact but who do you trust.”