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Alberta's Telephone Heritage
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Early Communications - Worldwide

However advanced our technology becomes, at either end of a telecommunications link are people who seldom pause to marvel at the ease with which they speak to others across large distances … and who forget that our ancestors developed and evolved the skill of communication from virtually nothing. All communication—indeed our very ability to develop and improve upon methods of information transmission—can be traced back to the beginning. And that means going back to the bones.

Drawings by AssiniboineAround 47,000 years ago, the first carved animal bones appeared, followed 10,000 years later by cave paintings. Our earliest ancestors (including both predecessors of humans and those who are considered cousins of the human family), felt a need to make their mark—to carve and draw the things they saw, and to preserve these engraved records for future generations. Their drawings told many stories about hunts, battles, and culture.

Over the centuries, our ancestors developed and evolved, and built upon the skills they had been taught. As they passed this knowledge on to their children, communications became more advanced.

Record-keeping through primitive images was refined into the art of pictography, which in turn gave way to a more abstract system of writing developed by the Phoenicians. That alphabet, featuring 22 characters, is the great-grandmother of our own. It has been traced to inscriptions dating as far back as 1000 BC from areas such as Byblos (present-day Lebanon) and Carthage (present-day Tunisia). In the early days of Phoenician writing, records were kept by impressing the lines and shapes of the letters into soft clay, and then baking the clay to harden the surface for preservation.

The Phoenicians’ development of a script by which to express complex ideas may have grown out of their trader culture and its need to exchange messages over long distances. Their alphabet was adopted by other societies who used it in the same fashion. Today, the Hebrew alphabet still uses the same names for its letters as the Phoenician alphabet did so many thousands of years ago, and the names of several Arabic letters also have their roots in Phoenician.

The Greeks also imported this alphabet, and the Romans adapted it to their needs, so that by 753 BC, the Roman alphabet consisted of 21 of the 26 letters you are reading right now. The letters Y, Z, J, U and W were added by the Romans as years progressed, and the alphabet that is most widely used throughout the world today was born.

Our alphabet is one example of how, when a successful method of communication has been developed, it is likely to endure virtually unaltered for eons.

Strathcona post office. Year 1911.The postal system is another example. Long-distance communications have been handled by messengers since shortly after the birth of language. As humanity began to spread its influence over land, the clever idea of using relay points for longer journeys was conceived. But little else could be done to speed up the process of communication.

That changed with the invention of the telegraph by Samuel Morse in 1831. When it was introduced to the public eight years later, vast distances were suddenly bridged by a single copper wire, and messages sent from one place to another almost instantly.

In some areas of the world, this technology would not make an immediate difference. In a land as large as Alberta, however, residents could feel the impact readily.

 


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