This is part of our yearlong series examining the history of communication.
Our definition of communication is a method of getting a message out to one or more persons. Since the very beginning, mankind has looked for new ways to communicate better to more people quickly. The oldest form of communication is cave painting, which dates back to 30,000 years ago. This form of rock art was not only a decoration but also a way to communicate to others. Coincidentally, most prehistoric cave paintings depict animals and human hands using stencils. Many theories behind the paintings ranging from showcasing animals that are best for hunting to illustrating animals for religious or ceremonial purposes. People also used bones and stones to track time and create a lunar calendar.
Rock carvings, or petroglyphs, were carved drawings on rocks. They are mostly developed in Africa, Asia, and southwest North America 12,000 years ago. While many of these carvings had religious and cultural significance, petrographs were also used as astronomical markers and maps, which shows that prehistoric people traveled vastly and used common signals.
Soon after pictograms followed by ideograms developed into a more sophisticated communication 10,000 years ago. These were symbols representing an activity, idea, or event. This was an important development because these symbols told a chronological story using universal symbols.
Egyptian hieroglyphs developed out of ideograms, which is considered the first mature writing system using symbolic and alphabetic elements and characters. Hieroglyphic writing was done on wood or papyrus and conveyed religious themes. This writing system was used well into 400 AD. The Egyptians also developed the first organized courier system.
Other non-scribing instruments were used for long distance communication, most notably smoke signals, a common method in North America and East Asia used for to communicate danger. Drumming, or talking drums, developed in earnest in Africa, Latin America and Asia for both ceremonial and communicative purposes for those in rural areas. Drums could be heard as far away as seven miles. Pigeons were used to send messages by the ancient Persians and Romans. The pigeons were transported to a destination in cages, where they would be attached with messages, then the pigeon would fly back to its natural home where the owner could read his mail. The Ancient Greeks and British also developed hydraulics systems using semaphoric fire and fluid pressure.
Next month: We will look at the invention of paper in China, the Phoenician alphabet, and modernized writing and publishing systems.