Contrary to popular belief, data storage is not modern at all. It’s actually a prehistoric concept.
That’s right. Back in the 1960s, in what is now western Iran, archeologists excavated clay balls, created by the people of Mesopotamia approximately 5,500 years ago – predating the invention of writing by 200 years!
Using high-resolution CT scans and 3D modeling, researchers were recently able to study and analyze the treasures encapsulated in these clay balls. They found small geometric shapes, or tokens, that could be grouped into 14 variations based on form.
In a lecture at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum, Christopher Woods, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, theorized that the clay containers may represent the world’s “very first data storage system.”
Woods’ hypothesis is based on the analysis of a 3,300-year-old clay ball previously found at the Nuzi site. Sealed inside that ball were 49 pebbles and text written using one of the earliest known writing systems that was effectively a contract for a shepherd to take care of 49 sheep and goats.
Apparently, the primary function of the clay balls was to record economic transactions. To the people of the flourishing cities of Mesopotamia, the small cones, spheres, pyramids, ovoids, lenses and other tokens may have represented numbers that corresponded to various metrological systems that were established to count different groups of commodities.
There is no doubt our modern data storage systems have come a long way over the past few thousand years. Try explaining cloud data storage to a Mesopotamian!
Besides the most apparent differences that data can now be stored virtually instead of physically and is quickly accessible – we don’t have to crack open a clay sphere to get to our customer databases – the entire culture of data storage has become much more complicated.
Prehistoric data system creators did not have to sweat over regulatory compliance challenges like Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS). And as far as we know, there were no clay ball hackers.
Yet, early creations like these clay ball record-keeping systems could be considered the “stepping-stones” that have led to the remarkable technologies on which we’ve become so dependent today.
In some alternate reality in which the Mesopotamians tattooed transaction information onto their bodies, would our modern storage systems look the same as they do today?
Perhaps the better question is: How will we store data 5,500 years from now? By looking at the past as well as the present, is it possible to see the future in data storage?
Let us know your opinions.