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Alberta's Telephone Heritage
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Slow Post and Messenger Service

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Once human beings had developed the idea of creating written records, it was only a matter of time before they addressed the need to courier those records from place to place to facilitate communication.

The first recorded use of an established message delivery service took place in Egypt around 2000 BC. The service was essentially a function of the government, allowing Pharaohs to issue decrees throughout the Egyptian state. Because literacy was a rare skill in that era, messengers seldom carried news or materials for private individuals.

Messenger for Canadian Pacific riding bicycle in downtown Calgary, Aberta.The idea of a formalized postal system continued to develop at various points throughout the ancient world. The presence of records dating as far back as 1700 BC serves as evidence that a postal service was employed in Assyria as a means of gathering vital information for the government, and later, as a means of formalizing a system of taxation.

Around 1600 BC, the Shang Dynasty in China possessed a form of horse courier service coupled with a fire-and-smoke beacon tower message relay system employed by government and military officials. This system persisted throughout the later Zhou and Qin Dynasties in China from 770 to 207 BC. In 2002, archeologists exploring a well in Hunan Province, China, discovered approximately 20,000 period documents written on bamboo strips that revealed progressive thinking among the Qin. Some of these missives were marked with a special character meaning "Fast Post."

Later dynasties in China, such as the Han and Ming, would continue to expand and improve upon the Qin postal system. Modern China, in fact, boasts the distinction of having the world's oldest continuously operating mail system, with many aspects of its contemporary system still consistent with the one formalized during the reign of the Qin Dynasty.

Through the years of 62 BC and AD 14, the Roman Empire during the reign of Augustus Caesar developed a state mail system known as the Cursus Publicus — a loose constellation of couriers that stretched across the Empire. Over time, its post office evolved into an efficient relay system of mounted messengers, carrier pigeons, and runners. These services were available to those who had been issued special government permits, complete with expiry dates.

The Romans also have the distinction of providing the world with the word for post. The Latin name for mail, posta, is derived from the word posata, referring to the "place of rest" where couriers would stay at various points in their travels.

Despite their efficiency, the postal services of the ancient world did not have the same character as those of today. For the most part, they lacked a public element. With limited education among the masses, members of the public had neither permission nor need to send messages to one another through a postal system. Progress on that front was slow, and prototypes for a public post appeared only with increased literacy rates among the working classes.

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