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The Early History of Communications



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While verbal communication had to await the development of a suitable larynx(voice box), a mobile tongue and appropriate resonating cavities, (and most importantly a brain able to associate words with events), written language only took a few thousands of years. Interestingly, birds learned to use verbal communication much earlier than humans, possibly by millions of years.

Before that, body language was the most important mean of communication, and it still is among other animals, such as monkeys, horses, dogs, mice.....

Written language began in Asia Minor around 20,000 years ago. It begins as 'pictograms', or cave paintings. At the end of the Ice Age 14,000 years ago, the rise of agriculture led to a population boom, travel and colonization of the entire Mediterranean Sea. The most productive land at the time was the Fertile Crescent, now Lebanon, Iran and Iraq. Tokens describing agricultural products dating 11,000 years were discovered there, and by 5,000 B.C. the cuneiform writing had emerged. All modern and extinct languages derive from pictograms. Chinese ideograms derive (though in small part) from pictograms developed around 4,500 B.C.

Around the same time as the cuneiform writing was invented, the Egyptians came up with hieroglyphs.

Hieroglyphs are the base of our alphabet.

And here is how the story may have gone.

On a sweltering hot summer day a Proto-Canaanite traveler, coming from the mild and breezy coast of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea along the Fertile Crescent, reached a desolate valley in Central Egypt.

He was carrying with him the bare minimum for the trip: a leather jug filled with water, some bread, a cane to hold his footing on the uneven trail, a stone ax. His clothes were made with light, thin linen, and he wore a hood over his head to shelter his eyes from the scorching sun.

The grey-brown soil in front of him was uninviting, probably downright dangerous. He stopped, and with the tip of his ax he scratched strange symbols on a nearby bolder.

'God, look after me across this unyielding road, so I can find work and bring food to my family'. And he moved on.

The man who wrote this line is long gone, but the words he wrote that day are still with us. They are the direct ancestors of our alphabet, taken from Egyptian hieroglyphs and modified to mean the first sound of whatever they symbolize in the Proto-Canaanite language. 'A' stands for Aleph, the ox, and if you take 'A' and flip it upside down, you can still see the head and horns of an ox.

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