Smoke and drums for warning and bottles of important information.. Learn about ancient human methods of communication


It is difficult today to run our business and live our daily lives without the instant connection provided by a quick text message or a phone call and we may even use more than one method of communication per minute to conduct these business, we may be receiving a phone call at the same time we are writing in response to an email .

But what about our ancestors who waited days and weeks for their message and even longer for a response? What are the means they used to convey their news and deliver their messages?

Just like everything in this world, the way mail and communications are sent also has its own history; It has gone through a lot of improvements and different styles over the years.

From smoke and carrier pigeons to bottles carrying messages, learn with us about the ancient ways of communication used by humans before phones and text messages.

Means of communication

Smoke .. a warning “visual telegraph” in ancient China

Together we will go back more than 3,000 years, to 1800 BC, when Chinese soldiers first used smoke signals to protect the Great Wall of China from enemies and invaders.

In case the enemies approached, the soldiers would smoke by day and lit fires at night on towers called watchtowers scattered at various points of the Great Wall of China, to warn their forces on the other sides that might be 500 miles away from them or even to pass military messages, which made it older. “Visual telegraph” that can travel over long distances is known in history.

Means of communication

The use of smoke as a means of communication was not limited to the Chinese only, but also moved to other countries.

In ancient Sri Lanka, soldiers stationed on mountaintops would warn each other of an impending enemy attack (from the English, Dutch or Portuguese) by sending signals from one peak to the next.

The indigenous peoples of North America also communicated through smoke. Each tribe had its own sign system and certain ways of understanding it.

Wet grass was used to make a fire, and the location and extent of the smoke conveyed a certain meaning. For example, if a fire is lit from the middle of a hill, this indicates that everything is fine, but if it is lit from the top of a hill, it indicates that there is some danger.

The ancient Chinese may have used this warning smoke because there was no technology to help them, but what is interesting is that “smoke” is still used in some rituals, specifically in the rite of choosing the Pope in the Vatican.

Ballots are burned after each vote, black smoke indicates the failure of the ballot to choose a new pope, and white smoke indicates the success of the ballot in choosing a new pope.

Drums..speak like humans!

In early human societies and before the development of written language, people developed ways to send their messages over long distances, including drums .

Some tribes in Africa, New Guinea, and Equatorial America have used drums to communicate with each other over great distances in forests for centuries.

Among the most famous communication drums were West African drums called “talking drums”, which were also used in America, the Caribbean, East Africa and Nigeria, an hourglass-shaped drum with two heads connected by leather tension wires, allowing the player to adjust the pitch of the drum by pressing the The ropes between his arm and his body. Drum tones can be set to mimic the tone and tone of human speech to send warnings or important information.

In his 1949 book The Talking Drums of Africa , the English immigrant to Africa, John F. Carrington, explained how African drummers were able to communicate complex messages across vast distances using lower tones referred to as masculine and higher tones, which could be transmitted from 4 to 5 miles.

Runners.. to deliver a message and then die

Another means of transmitting news of war and its developments over long distances was the appointment of messengers and runners who were required to run for miles to deliver important messages.

The ancient Greeks followed this method of delivering messages in 490 BC, saving the cities and states of Greece from falling into the hands of the Persians.

When the Persians landed in Marathon, Greece, a runner named Phidippides was sent to Sparta to seek help. This runner ran about 240 km, then ran back.

But after their victory at the Battle of Marathon and their defeat of the Persian army, the Greeks were worried that the Persians, who had withdrawn to the sea, would head for Athens to launch a new offensive. so they needed to send Phipides a hasty message again to Athena; To warn them there, and ask them to prepare and be prepared.

Phidippides ran to Athens 26 miles (40 km) in just about three hours and delivered his message. However, he was so exhausted that he passed away afterwards. So using this method for long distances was not the best way to deliver messages. Hence the name “Marathon” for the sporting event.

Carrier pigeons.. war correspondent

The pigeon is a symbol of peace, but it also had another mission, as the carrier pigeon was a messenger during wars as well.

When the army is in battle, it sends out important information and news by writing it in a small letter placed in a small metal case and fastened to the pigeon’s foot.

The carrier pigeon has been trained by keeping its homeland, and taking it to another place, and so when it is left to return to its homeland, it returns to the “pigeon tower” in its homeland, which is linked to the palace of the king or the sultan.

It is not known who was the first to use homing pigeons as a messenger, but it is possible that the ancient Persians were the first to use homing pigeons since they were the ones who started the art of training birds.

The Greeks and Romans also used homing pigeons to transmit information and military orders from one place to another.

By this means, the Greeks carried the names of the winners of the Olympic Games to their distant cities.

As for the Muslims, the post reached its peak in the era of the Mamluk state, specifically during the rule of al-Zahir Baybars, who ruled between 1260 and 1277 CE.

Baibars paid great attention to organizing mail by using horses and carrier pigeons to carry military news.

Bottles.. messages of love, war and philosophers

The bottles are not only for sending love letters to an unknown or absent lover or writing wishes and throwing them into the sea for another person to find, as in dramatic films, but they have also served scientific and military objectives throughout history.

The first known use of flasks was around 310 BC, when the Greek philosopher Theophrastus threw sealed bottles into the sea to prove that the Mediterranean was formed by the flow of the Atlantic Ocean, hoping that his bottles would end up there and receive a response from the other party to prove that they had returned from there. But there is no evidence that he received any response at the time, according to National Geographic .

In the sixteenth century, Queen Elizabeth I , Queen of England and Ireland, created a job position for a person, whose official job was to open letter bottles, and there was an official death penalty for anyone who found a bottle and opened it without permission.

In modern history in the twentieth century, soldiers of World War I used bottles to send last messages to their loved ones.

Horses.. lasted until recently

Horses have been a primary means of delivering mail and letters for many years in different countries around the world. Riders on horseback can take small bundles of mail, while horse-drawn carriages can take large amounts of mail over very long distances.

In the era of the Mamluk state and when al-Zahir Baybars ruled, he established a tight system for mail in the state, whether transported by land by horse or by air by carrier pigeon, as we explained above. Like it, which contributed to strengthening the state’s strength and security.

Horses continued to be used to send mail until relatively recently. In the early 1860s, the American Pony Express , a postal delivery service serving some areas of America, emerged in the early 1860s.

It was a system for sending messages using horses before the invention of the telegraph. The company lasted 18 months after it declared bankruptcy and ceased operations coinciding with the invention of the telegraph.

The electric telegraph.. the beginning of the era of modern communication

The invention of the telegraph is the turning point that replaced some of the previous postal means (such as horses) and paved the way for the modern means that we have today, such as cellular phones.

The story began in 1837, when two groups of inventors simultaneously developed the electric telegraph. The first group was Charles Wheatstone and William Cook in England, and the other group was Samuel Morse and his assistants in the United States.

They developed a new alphabet using the dots and lines that became the standard for telegraphic communications. As technology improved, the telegraph became an audio transmitter and began to be used in other countries.

The use of the telegraph has been widely accepted as an easy and fast way to send and receive information. However, the widespread and successful use of the device required a unified system of telegraph stations through which information could be transmitted.

Western Union Telegraphy was initially only one of many similar companies that contributed to the spread of the new medium during the 1850s.

By 1861, Western Union had laid the first transcontinental telegraph line. Then telegraph systems spread all over the world as well. By 1866 the first permanent transatlantic telegraph cable had been successfully laid, bringing the number to 40 transatlantic telegraph lines by 1940.

Towards the end of the 19th century, new technologies began to emerge, many based on the same principles that were first developed for the telegraph system.

Gradually the telegraph has been replaced in most developed countries by digital data transmission systems based on computer technology.

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