Picture yourself a cave dweller, half
a million years ago. Something exciting has happened—you've just
discovered fire—and you want to share it with a friend in Australia
or Canada. You whip out your phone to take a selfie but... oh, wait!
Selfies haven't been invented. Nor have phones, friends overseas,
or even places called "Canada" and "Australia."
It's hard to comprehend just how much the human world has changed since prehistoric times,
when nothing bothered people more than finding food and shelter and staying warm. All kinds of
inventions and discoveries have radically reshaped the planet we live on, but some of
the most dramatic involve communications: recording information in different
forms and sharing it with other people.
The coming of transportation technologies, such as railroads, cars, and jet engines,
meant people could whistle round the world in days, hours, or even
minutes. But communication technologies, like the
and fiber optics,
shrunk the same world to a point a beam of light could
cross in under a second. Even more radically, most forms of communication,
from the alphabet to the Internet, let us share thoughts, ideas, and
history itself in both space and
time: with friends alive now and people far in the future who haven't even been born.
How did ancient communications technology become the power behind
modern civilization? Let's take a closer look!
Photo: Movies in a box: Thomas Edison's pioneering movie camera,
pictured in his office and library at West Orange, New Jersey.
Credit: Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith's America Project in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive,
Library of Congress, Prints and
Our memories, though amazing, are fragile and fallible. How, then, to record things like
land transactions, trade, and taxes? That was how writing came to be invented, in ancient times,
some 5,000–10,000 years ago, originally in the form of simple marks pressed
in clay or notches carved into sticks and bones.
Why stop there? The idea of using symbols to represent more things—spoken thoughts,
stories, and increasingly complex ideas—was such a good one that it seems to have appeared independently, in
different parts of the world, at slightly different times. As with many other inventions, there's no single point
at which language was suddenly invented and no single language from which all others
One of the first written languages appeared c.3500BCE, developed by the
Sumerians (in a region now in Iraq), who pressed sticks into
clay to make symbols.
This evolved into a more sophisticated
form of writing called cuneiform,
which was used to represent picture symbols (pictographs), syllables, and words in wedge-shaped grooves pressed into soft clay.
Cuneiform (which means "wedge-shaped") is generally considered to be the first, proper form of human writing
and it remained in use, in various forms, for about 3000 years.
Although it looks like a strange written language, it's actually a "writing method" that was used
with over a dozen different languages, in different places, at different times.
The ancient Egyptians followed on, a little later, with their famous system of
hieroglyphs (incorporating pictures of everyday things like eyes and birds); and the Chinese too, invented a system of
written pictographs, c.1250–1000BCE, essentially the
ancestors of the thousands of hanzi characters that they use to this day.
Photo: Hieroglyphics in a temple in Karnak, Egypt. Photo by Maison Bonfils (Beirut, Lebanon) courtesy US Library of
A few hundred years later, c.1700BCE, the Semitic people in the Mediterranean
had a brilliant idea: writing language down using an alphabet
(a limited set of building blocks that can be rearranged to make every possible word).
Different alphabets evolved around the world at different times:
the Phoenician (c.1100BCE), Aramaic/Arabic (c.800BCE), and Hebrew (c.800–300BCE) alphabets developed later,
and the Greek (c.800BCE), Etruscan (c.700BCE), and Russian Cyrillic (c.900CE) alphabets later still.
The Roman (or Latin) alphabet evolved from the Etruscan, spawning the alphabet still used in much of the western
world to this day.
Writing down and sharing thoughts meant not just inventing
the idea of languages and alphabets but developing practical ways of recording words
that would last longer than human memories. The
Egyptians pioneered papyrus (the forerunner of paper, made
from the fibrous pith of swamp plants) c.3000BCE.
It was widely used by the Greeks and Romans, who also used
parchment (and an especially fine version of it, called vellum), made from dried animal hides,
which is also believed to date back to the ancient Egyptians.
The Greeks and Romans wrote on papyrus scrolls (long rolls of paper or paperlike materials wrapped, like
paper kitchen towels, round wooden holders). Later, people tried
writing on slabs of wood covered in wax
into which marks could be scratched with a stick
and rubbed out if necessary. This idea was known as a
codex and it
gradually evolved into the paper books we have today, which began as
parchment sheets (dried sheep and goat hides) crudely stitched together.
Early Egyptian writers daubed their papyrus with some of the first inks, made from
lampblack (a kind of soot) bound with gum arabic (a simple glue made from
things like acacia trees) and water.
Ostraca (essentially, bits of broken pottery) was another very common writing material
in the ancient world.
It was the Chinese who made arguably the greatest leap in writing technology
when they developed paper, from crushed tree bark, in 105CE
(and, according to some sources, several centuries earlier).
The Chinese had developed their own inks, possibly as early as 3000–4000BCE,
also based on materials like lampblack and soot from burned pine trees,
and something called "stone ink," which may have been based on graphite (soft carbon).
Printing and copying
Photo: Type: The metal keys of an old typewriter make printed letters appear on paper in any order you choose. This idea dates back to ancient China.
Another great Chinese invention (c.600CE) was the idea of printing things by carving pictographs,
in reverse, into blocks of wood, coating them with ink, and pressing them against paper. With
as this is known, you could make many copies of the same page and give it to lots of people at once.
An even cleverer Chinese idea, which dates from around 700CE (and was first described by scientist
Shen Kuo c.1100CE),
was to carve individual pictographs into smaller wooden blocks ("type") that could be
rearranged on the page to make different messages—an idea we'd
now called "movable type."
According to T.H. Tsien, writing in Joseph Needham's epic history of Chinese science and technology:
"Of all the products from the ancient world, few can compare in significance with
the Chinese inventions of paper and printing."
Printing utterly transformed the world a few
hundred years later when it was rediscovered by a German named
Johannes Gutenberg (c.1400–1468) and incorporated into his famous
invention: the printing press.
This radical invention made it possible to produce books,
such as the bible, in large quantities, so paving the way for mass
education and literacy and the idea of preserving
human knowledge in forms that could be passed from generation to generation.
Photo: Printing presses changed the world. This one was
used by Benjamin Franklin in the 1730s. Photo from Carol M. Highsmith's America Project in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive,
courtesy US Library of
Today, most of us are printers, though
we might use old-fashioned things like typewriters
(developed from the 1860s onward by Christopher Latham-Sholes, 1819–1890);
photocopiers (invented in the 1940s by Chester Carlson, 1906–1968,
and pioneered by Xerox); inkjets (pioneered by the Japanese Canon company in the 1980s);
laser printers (invented in the 1960s at Xerox by Gary Starkweather, 1938–2019);
or publish our words on the World Wide Web (invented in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee, 1955–).
Paper is just as important as ever, but we also read our words from things like
LCD computer screens and the
"electronic ink" displays of ebooks.
All these inventions, though
ground-breaking in their own way, are built on the
earliest and most important human communication technologies:
writing, alphabets, type, and printing.
Near and far
Writing things down as a permanent record was a great advance for humankind, but as transportation
effectively made the world a smaller place, so the need grew for
reliable long-distance forms of messaging. In fact, innovations in transportation and communication have
constantly nudged one another forward: better transportation means your circle of trading partners,
friends, and relatives are ever more widely dispersed—so you need even better communications
technology to keep in touch with them. But the wider your contacts, the more you're likely to need better
long-distance travel and transportation to meet and exchange goods with them.
Express and semaphore
Our idea of exactly what "long distance" means have changed radically.
Back in ancient times, it probably meant as far as you could hear someone's shouts or drumbeats, see their burning torches or smoke signals, or carry a message by hand or horse; there were few other
ways of sending messages very far. Hand and horse still set the limit for how far information
could travel in a certain time. In ancient Greece,
"marathon" runners carried written messages many miles.
(The name comes from the the legend of Pheidippides, a Greek who reputedly carried news
of the Battle of Marathon some 42km or 26 miles to Athens, the Greek capital, before
collapsing and dying on the spot, in 490BCE.)
Photo: Don't shoot the messenger! Pony Express riders carried messages long distances, on horseback,
in the mid-19th century. Photo of a statue by sculptor Thomas Holland in Old Sacramento, California
by Carol M. Highsmith. Credit: The Jon B. Lovelace Collection of California Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith's America Project,
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
The Persians, who were defeated at Marathon, preferred sending messages on
horseback—an idea later reinvented in things like
Wells Fargo, American Express, and the
Pony Express, all of which
carried messages (or sometimes money) by horse or stagecoach.
Communication glimpsed the future, toward the end of the 19th
century, when a Frenchman named
Claude Chappe invented a way of sending messages over long distances from tall towers.
Semaphore ("sign carrying"), as it was known, used wooden, pivoting
arms that could be moved up and down to represent different letters
with a simple code.
All these things suffered the same basic drawbacks. First, even in things like semaphore, messages were
essentially being sent mechanically—by clumsy, unnatural devices that were
slow to operate. (Imagine wanting to ask someone out on a date and first having to light a large
bonfire so you can send them smoke signals.) Second, where messages
were physically carried, they could travel no faster than humans or animals could move them.
Third, from messenger runners to Pony Express, most of these methods
involved getting someone else to send a message on your behalf; you
couldn't just do it yourself. This all changed in the 19th century when
scientists and inventors learned to harness the power of electricity
for practical purposes—so people could, gradually, send long-distance messages all by themselves.
Telegraph and telephone
The telegraph was a kind of "electrical upgrade" of the semaphore—a way of sending coded messages
down a length of electric cable instead of as visual signals through the air.
It was first proposed in Scotland in 1753 by someone writing
in a magazine and signing themselves, anonymously, "C.M."
Over the next 80 years, many inventors tried out experimental variations on this theme before
the commercially viable
Cooke and Wheatstone system was finally developed, in 1837, by British scientist and prolific inventor Sir Charles Wheatstone
(1802–1875) and Sir William Cooke (1806–1879).
Using six wires (for sending the signal), and five moving pointers (for displaying the message),
it was relatively cumbersome.
That was largely why it was succeeded by the simpler, more reliable, two-wire
Morse telegraph introduced in
1844 by American Samuel Morse (1791–1872), featuring
his famous Morse code, which uses dots and dashes (short and long pulses of electricity) to represent
the letters of the alphabet.
Artwork: Samuel Morse demonstrates the telegraph. Artwork from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 1871, courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs
Telegraphs transmitted at the speed of
electricity—far faster than horses or even steam locomotives could
carry messages—but they still suffered the other two drawbacks of
classic, long-distance communication: they used clumsy "keys" to
send letters and words in coded form, which meant messages could be
sent and received only at special offices by trained telegraph
operators. Fortunately, the 18th century inspired various inventors
to experiment with converting the sound of their own voices into
electrical signals that could be sent, in real-time, down electric
cables—the basic principle of the telephone. Most of their names
are largely forgotten today, including a German named Johann Philip Reis (1834–1874),
French engineer Charles Bourseul (1829–1912), Italian Antonio Meucci (1808–1889),
and American Elisha Gray (1835–1901). Rightly or wrongly, the name we remember as the telephone's inventor is that of Alexander Graham Bell (1847–1922),
who patented his version of the technology in 1876. The telegraph
and telephone systems eventually evolved into ways of sending entire documents
down a wire by telex (a "teleprinting" system developed in Germany in the 1930s)
and fax (developed in its familiar, modern, electronic form in the 1960s).
Photo: Fiber optics sends messages in laser light beams. Photo by Greg Vojtko courtesy of
US Navy and
Four years after his original patent, Bell developed what he considered "the greatest invention I have ever made;
greater than the telephone."
Called the photophone, it was a way of sending telephone calls without any wires at all, coded
inside super-fast beams of light. That made it a forerunner of
fiber optics: a way of sending information
(such as phone calls or Internet data) down hair-thin strands of glass
or plastic at the speed of light. Though the science dates back to the mid-19th
century, fiber optics really dates back to the mid-20th century: Heinrich Lamm and Walter Gerlach
experimented with the idea for medical use in the 1930s; in the 1950s, Indian-born Narinder Kapany (1926–2021) and British physicist Harold Hopkins (1918–1994) sent the first pictures down fiber cables;
and in the 1960s, Chinese-born US physicist Charles Kao (1933–2018) and George Hockham figured out
how to send use the technology for sending messages over long distances.
The reach of radio
Bell's 1880 photophone was, arguably, the world's first mobile phone;
it demonstrated the idea of making "wireless" phone calls, but it
was too far ahead of its time and never caught on.
Mobile phones arguably trace back to a Canadian
engineer named Reginald Fessenden (1866–1932), who used radio sets for communicating
weather reports in Maryland, back in the early 1900s,
spawning the commercial "Fessenden Wireless Telegraph System,"
and eventually making possible things like emergency service telephones (in the
1920s) and taxi phones (around the 1940s). Modern, mobile cellphones
use electromagnetic radio waves for sending and receiving their calls, and a system
of towers centered on overlapping, honeycomb-shaped zones called "cells"; this idea
was invented in 1973 by Martin Cooper of Motorola. Between Alexander
Graham Bell, in the 1870s, and Martin Cooper, in the 1970s, stretches
the bold, brave history of wireless radio.
Radio began life in the mid-19th century as a scientific curiosity. In
the 1860s, Scottish scientist James Clerk Maxwell (1831–1879) had figured
out the mysterious connection between electricity and magnetism—they were two sides of the same coin—and suggested that both traveled in wave form at the speed of light. Heinrich Hertz, a German physicist, confirmed this in his laboratory
in 1888 when he sent the first electromagnetic
wave. An English physicist, Sir Oliver Lodge (1851–1940), took things a few steps further, devising
some of the basic apparatus for sending and receiving these "Hertzian waves"
(as they were originally known) and sending the first radio message at a meeting in Oxford, England in 1894.
Nikola Tesla (1856–1943), the great underrated genius of the electrical age, also made
important steps forward in sending and receiving "wireless" signals—by radio.
Photo: Radios like this trace their history back to 1888, when Heinrich Hertz made the first
electromagnetic wave in his laboratory.
But it was Italian Guglielmo Marconi (1874–1937) who made radio a
world-beating invention, with the same magical mix of scientific inspiration,
entrepreneurial chutzpah, and marketing flair that people like Elon
Musk demonstrate today. In December, 1901, in a
particularly famous demonstration,
Marconi sent a radio transmission from Cornwall, England to Newfoundland, Canada
some 2200 miles (3500 km) away. It was such a long distance that many
thought it impossible, but Marconi figured (correctly) that the radio waves would bounce off
part of Earth's atmosphere (the ionosphere), just like light
bounces off a mirror,
in effect following Earth's curvature. The theory of how this worked was explained the following year
by oddball British physicist Oliver Heaviside, (1850–1925).
Thanks to electronics pioneers like
Lee De Forest (1873–1961), who invented the triode amplifying vacuum
tube in 1906, and John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William
Shockley, who invented the transistor, in 1947, radio receivers
soon became small enough to power with batteries and carry wherever you
went. They were, very crudely speaking, one-way mobile phones!
Photo: Transistors like this made it possible to shrink
pieces of communications equipment—such as radios, TVs, and phones—so
they became small, lightweight, and portable.
From pictures to moving pictures
Freezing the world into still pictures has always been a fundamental part of how people communicate.
Think of cave paintings, hieroglyphics, or Chinese pictograms. Think,
indeed, of the whole history of human art. But painting takes time and skill.
If you have neither of these things, but still want
to catch an accurate picture of things you can see you need a camera—another
invention that dates back to ancient China. The Chinese developed the
ancestor of modern cameras, the camera obscura, and first
wrote down details of how it worked around 500BCE, though it's believed
to be a much older idea possibly even dating to prehistoric times.
In one classic early form, it was a darkened room with drapes drawn across the windows into which a
tiny hole was bored. Light rays streamed through the hole, crossed
over, and projected an upside-down image of the outside world onto
the opposite wall.
The Chinese clearly knew the optics of making images, but not how to record them permanently.
That invention didn't appear for another two millennia, in the 18th century, when British chemists
found that certain silver-based chemicals would change their nature
when they were exposed to light. In 1827, Frenchman Joseph Nicéphore
Niépce (1765–1833) made the first black-and-white photo
using the same science, later inspiring another Frenchman, Louis
Daguerre (1787–1851), to take what were effectively the first
popular photos, known as daguerreotypes. Englishman William Henry Fox
Talbot (1800–1877) discovered how to make better photos using a
"negative" (reversed color) image that was then developed into a
final "positive" print.
Photo: By the 1930s, cameras were convenient and portable. This is an English-made Soho Cadet with a case made from tough Bakelite plastic.
All these early photos took time to capture—Niépce's first photo took eight
hours and daguerreotypes needed 10 minutes—but better methods were just around the corner. Another
Englishman, Frederick Scott Archer (1813–1857), used
coated in silver chemicals to take snapshots in seconds. And the
final step, in the development of classic photography, happened in
1883 when an American inventor named George Eastman (1854–1932)
discovered how to transform Archer's cumbersome plates
into small, cheap, plastic strips called film. Eastman went on to invent
easy-to-use, popular film cameras
under the Kodak brand name; his rival, Edwin Land (1909–1991), went one step further by
inventing Polaroid cameras that could take, develop, and print
instant photos. Land's first public demonstration was an instant picture
of his own face; in effect, he'd invented the selfie.
The human world is a restless place:
nothing stays still for long. Taking photos was a
wonderful technological advance, but it
didn't solve the problem of how
to record things that change before your eyes. Many inventors toyed with the
turning still images into moving ones in the 19th century. Indeed,
the first attempts to do this were, quite literally, toys, such as the
phenakistoscope (a disc covered with still pictures that leaped to
life when you spun it around) and the
zoetrope (which worked in a
similar way, except the images were printed on the inside of a
spinning cylinder and viewed through a slit).
Photo: Eadweard Muybridge's studies of moving animals (and people)
paved the way to the movie age. Photo courtesy of US Library of Congress.
Following the invention of cameras, others tried to capture movement
using a sequence of photos taken one after another.
Most famously, in the 1870s, American
Eadweard Muybridge (1830–1904)
used rows of cameras to take successive shots of moving people and
animals. A few years later, Frenchman Étienne-Jules Marey (1830–1904) developed a camera on a long pointed stick that took
photos of fast-moving things in rapid succession. American William
Dickson (1860–1937) saw what Muybridge and Marey had done and,
working with his boss, Thomas Edison (1847–1931), developed what was effectively
the first modern movie camera, the Kinetograph, in 1893. The films it took could be viewed
by loading them into a rattling, viewing machine called a
Kinetoscope, but only one person could see them at a time (usually
after paying a few cents in a "peepshow" booth). The final piece of the puzzle—the invention of what we now call movies—happened in Paris, France in the 1890s when two brothers,
Auguste Lumière (1862–1954) and Louis Lumière
(1864–1948) invented a better movie-making system that projected
its pictures onto a wall, big enough for many people to see at the same
time; their first movie theater opened in 1895. The first movies were
black and white, but color ones appeared about a decade later when
Kinemacolor was invented in 1906
by George Albert Smith (1864–1959).
Photo: An early portable TV from about 1955.
Today, many of us view movies (and
other programs) not in movie theaters but in our own living rooms.
What made that possible was the invention of television, which was
effectively a marriage of radio technology and movies. In theory, it
was a relatively small step from radio to television—all you
had to do was send pictures through the air as well as sounds.
In practice, that meant devising ways to "scan" moving pictures (turn them
into "chunks" that could be transmitted), and it took the combined genius of
several brilliant electrical pioneers to give us the TV system we know today. In the
1920s, Scotsman John Logie Baird (1888–1946) made a mechanical TV
sending and receiving system using a spinning-disc scanner originally
invented by a young German named Paul Nipkow (1860–1940).
Electronic TVs were perfected by Russian-born Vladimir Zworykin
(1888–1982), working in the United States, and Philo Farnsworth
(1906–1971), who developed the modern idea of scanning, electronic television.
The first TV broadcasts were made in 1927 (by the BBC in London) and 1930
(by RCA and NBC in the United States). Though early broadcasts
were made in monochrome (black and white), color TV was soon
developed by Hungarian-born Peter Goldmark (1906–1977), working in
the United States, also in the 1930s.
The sound of music
So much for pictures, but what of sounds? Let's press the rewind button on history,
for a moment, to discover a different, parallel story...
By the mid-16th century, humans had mastered the art of writing down thoughts and
ideas and reproducing them in quantity, but sound was a different matter. There was no
obvious way to record spoken language, music, or any other kind of
sound—and none would come along for at least another 200 years.
Indeed, it was not until 1877 that Thomas Edison, who had
experimented with telegraphs and made a number of improvements to
their design, figured out a crude way of recording sound—in the
shape of his "talking machine." It featured cylinders covered
with foil on which a metal needle rested loosely. When you spoke into
a horn, the vibrations made the needle jump up and down, cutting into
the foil, which was slowly rotated to leave a groove and a record of
your voice. Running the process in reverse turned the bumps in the
groove back into (very crackly) sound that you could hear if you put
your ear near the same horn.
Edison's sound-recording machine led to the gramophone, invented
by Emile Berliner (1851–1929), who used a similar needle that cut
its grooves into wax-covered discs. Gradually, these evolved into vinyl plastic long-playing (LP)
records that many music fans still listen to to this day, first
introduced by CBS records in 1948. Plastic LPs were cheap and easy to
reproduce in their thousands and millions, so ushering in the
20th-century era of mass-produced pop and rock records. But, unlike
with Edison's original recorder, you couldn't record your own.
Analog and digital
This left a gap in the market that was
filled by magnetic sound-recording technologies. The first of these
appeared in 1888, a decade after Edison's original machine, in the
shape of magnetically coated cloth tape, invented by another US
inventor, Oberlin Smith (1840–1926). A German named Fritz Pfleumer
(1897–1945) reinvented essentially the same idea, several decades
later, before selling it to the AEG company, who began manufacturing
the first tape recorders in the 1930s. Three decades later, in 1964,
Philips devised a way of miniaturizing reels of tape and packaging
them in convenient plastic, "compact cassettes." With a cassette
recorder, you could play back other people's music and record your
own sounds too. By the 1980s, thanks to Sony's Akio Morita
(1921–1999), the technology was small and light enough to carry in
your pocket—in the shape of the company's famous Walkman.
Photo: This typical personal music player from the 1990s could play digital, optical CDs (loaded at the front) or analog, magnetic "compact cassettes" (loaded at the back).
Today, most of these forms of sound recording and playback have been superseded by
which store sounds not as bumps in vinyl or magnetized "domains"
on long reels of tape but long strings of binary numbers. In the
1960s, James T. Russell (1931–) of Pacific Northwest National
Laboratory invented the basic optical technology behind the compact
disc (CD), a fraction the size of an LP, which stores about an hour
of sound in digital form, and which later evolved into the DVD
(digital video disc) for storing movies. Further developed in the 1970s, it was
finally commercialized in the 1980s by Philips and Sony.
Now, in the age of the Internet, even
technologies like the CD and DVD seem dated: most of us download
books, music, and other forms of information instantly, as and when we need to.
Thanks to a cunning technology called streaming,
pioneered by Rob Glaser (1962–) of Real Networks (then
Progressive Networks) in the late 1990s, you don't even need
to download things before you play them. The basic idea of streaming
is to play big files (things like movies and TV programs) as they're
downloading, so you don't have to wait. This made possible innovations
like YouTube, Netflix, the BBC iPlayer, and many similar "on-demand"
Communication meets the computer
Photo: A go-anywhere personal communicator—better known as a smartphone.
Meanwhile, throughout the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries,
slowly transforming themselves from giant clanking machines into tiny
electronic communicators we could
carry in our pockets, while the telephone network, the Internet,
and radio-cellphone technology, made it possible for these machines
to communicate with one another anytime,
anywhere. The Internet also spawned the World Wide Web,
invented by Tim Berners-Lee (1955–) in 1989, which
is an online, always-open, multimedia library that gives us access to books, newspapers, music,
photos, videos, and more. And that, in turn, spawned easy to use self-publishing
tools like blogs, and social media sites (such as Twitter) that let us share what we think and feel
in real time. The most exciting thing about the history
of communications is the way everything—written words and messages,
still and moving images, movies, radio and TV, telephones, and the
Internet and Web—has come together and converged in tiny little devices,
smartphones, which are effectively what you might call "universal
Scroll back through this article and
you'll see that we got from writing to tweeting in about 7,000–12,000
years; and from the alphabet to the Internet in about three and half
thousand. Where will communications technology take us in the
next two thousand years... two hundred... or even twenty?
Watch this space!
Communication: Lots of fascinating online exhibits here from London's Science Museum.
For younger readers
Inventions: A Visual Encyclopedia by John Farndon et al. DK/Smithsonian, 2018. The section on "Communication" (pp.134–177) covers much of the same ground as I do, but in a more visual, photographic style.
↑ There's no exact date for the invention of writing and even giving an inexact date depends on how we define our terms.
Do we mean the first use of recorded symbols (sometimes called "proto-writing"),
the first "true" written language, the first use of sophisticated language building blocks like syllables and alphabets...?
For a good, clear introduction, see "Chapter 33: Graphology," and the section "The history of writing" in David Crystal's
The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, Cambridge University Press, 1987, pp.196–207 (and later editions). Online, Wikipedia's article about the history of writing is a reasonable place to start.
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