You may see smartphones, tablets, and computers as commonplace today, but it has taken ages for us to reach this level of perfection in human communication! We go from sounds to speech to movable techniques like printing. Nowadays, conveying a message to someone is as easy as counting 1, 2, 3…
The process of advancement in the science of communication has transcended to such a level where technology and communications now go hand-in-hand. However, history tells us that our ancestors too made some remarkable technological developments in their day and age which has resulted in us reaching towards this present age of the Internet and mobile devices. Amazing isn’t it?
Let’s explore how humans initially started communicating with each other since the days of early-man:
Birth of ‘sounds’ communication and later on, human speech –Historians and archaeologists point through the study of fossils found across the world that approximately around c. 200,000 BC, humans may have begun communicating with language.
Before that, they probably used vocal sounds or grunts to enunciate a ‘message’ or emotion. Researchers also believe that Asia and Africa are the two continents where origins of language may have taken place thus being the cradle of human communication.
Visual communication through cave paintings – Various radiocarbon dating studies (from the Chauvet cave in the Ardeche valley of southern France) have shown that many cave drawings originated within the cave around 30,000 BC. The images document the earliest form of pictographic communication attempts made by early-man. Moreover, the presence of charcoal, human footprints, and remnants of fire torches confirm that these were indeed human-made drawings.
Visual communication through cuneiform writing – The Sumerians are credited with the discovery of developing the technique of writing on clay tablets (cuneiforms). These advanced pictographs are considered the most elaborate form of writing of those times.
It is thought that the Ubaidians (c. 6500 to c. 3800 BC) initially introduced Sumerians (c. 4500 – c. 1900 BC) to the nuances of numerical calculation, which the Sumerians preferred to write down on clay tablets to keep records of supplies, stocks, and goods they bartered. They even wrote down advanced maps of the stars, complex arithmetic calculations based on 10 units (number of fingers on both human hands) and also divided a circle into equal units of sixty sections.
Next came the Egyptians who developed hieroglyphs which were pictographic representations of the ‘word of God’ written down by their priests. These elaborate symbols and images (humans, animals, celestial beings, etc. were written in rows and columns that can be read from left to right or from right to left and were used for decorating the walls of Egyptian temples and also for keeping business records as well.
The invention of the ancient alphabet on sounds (approx. 1,050 BC) – For written human communication, development of alphabets was the basic requirement. The Phoenicians (c. 1400- c. 1250 BC) developed an initial alphabet based on phonetic sounds. To converse with their maritime trading partners and to understand diverse cultures around them, humans in the Mediterranean world, especially Greece, developed the Phoenician alphabet which had 22 letters based on sound and was far easier to understand in comparison to the complex cuneiform sound and hieroglyphics sounds prevalent at that time.
The oldest postal services – In Cyrus’ Persian Empire (c. 6 BC), mounted messengers began delivering posts. Historical references point towards the use of postal systems in Egypt around 2000 BC and in China (under the Chou dynasty) around 905 BC where primitive horse-mounted systems were used to relay messages and served by posthouses. The Athenians of Greece Approx. 776 BC to 393 AD also used homing pigeons in and around the city during the Olympic Games to send messages announcing the name of the games’ winners.
In India, the Mauryan Empire (322–185 BC) developed early Indian mail service in which common chariots called Dagana were sometimes used as mail chariots in ancient India. In South India, the Wodeyar dynasty (1399—1947) of the Kingdom of Mysore used mail service for espionage purposes thereby acquiring knowledge related to matters that took place at great distances.
The birth of the original printing presses – China is credited with the invention of wooden printing presses approximately around c. 220 AD in which Chinese monks used a method called block printing – symbols carved on a wooden block and pressed onto sheets of paper. We believe that printing press revolutionized human communication like no other medium was able to do till that period.
The government official Wang Zhen (fl. 1290–1333) improved Bi Sheng’s clay types by innovation through the wood, as his process increased the speed of typesetting as well. Later in
China by 1490 bronze movable type was developed by the wealthy printer Hua Sui (1439–1513).
One of the earliest surviving books printed in this technique was known as “The Diamond Sutra”, an ancient Buddhist text created in 868 AD by the T’ang Dynasty (c. 618 AD – c. 909 AD) in China.
The first newspapers appear in Europe (Approx. c. 1450 AD) – Handwritten letters began being privately circulated among merchants where economic conditions, social reforms, and wars were being discussed. The first printed newspapers appeared in Germany in the late 1400’s where pamphlets or broadsides discussed highly sensationalized content.
Printing press with metal movable type invented by Johannes Gutenberg – Around 1455 AD, taking inspiration from Bi Sheng (inventor of the world’s first movable type technology), Gutenberg cast movable blocks of letters and symbols (upper-case letters, punctuation marks, etc.) out of various metals, including lead, antimony and tin. He created his own ink using linseed oil and soot that led to the discovery of the modern ink you use today. Furthermore, he developed a system that mechanized the transfer of ink from movable type to paper which led to the mass production of books at a fraction of the cost of conventional printing methods.
Printing in India – There is evidence that mass duplication in India dates back to the time of the Indus Valley Civilization when grants of land were recorded as engravings on copper plates and etchings on different surfaces (wood, bone, ivory, and shells).
The art of printing came to India when a letter (dated 30 April 1556) addressed to St. Ignatius of Loyola was sent to Goa. In the letter, Father Gasper Caleza mentions of a ship carrying a certain printing press for Abyssinia from Portugal for missionary work. However, the printing press could not be sent abroad and instead landed up in India. This is how printing was initiated in the country.
The earliest surviving printed book in India is called the ‘Compendio Spiritual Da Vide Christaa’ (Spiritual Compendium of the Christian life) of Gaspar Jorge de Leão Pereira, the Portuguese Archbishop of Goa.