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.
Around 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
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.
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
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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Heritage Community Foundation and
Telephone Historical Centre All Rights Reserved