Properties of blockchain technology and ledgers in ancient communications.
Just like its name suggests, blockchain is a chain of blocks. In essence, a blockchain is a ledger where each block is a page in a ledger. The innovation of blockchain is that blockchain ledgers are tamper-proof and decentralized. Tamper-proof means that if anyone were to change even one symbol in the information that a blockchain contains, the blockchain would reject the modified block. It would be easy for the blockchain to reject it because the chain is decentralized, meaning that exact same copies of the information are stored on multiple computers (a computer on a blockchain network that stores a full copy of the network’s blockchain is called a node) and no copy has priority over any other copy, meaning that they all are the same and equal. This properly of blockchain networks also makes them extremely secure because, in a blockchain network, there is no single point of attack and if somebody were to try and take over the network, the attacker would need to gain control over more than 51% of the nodes on the network. This task becomes harder as the network becomes more popular. For example, at the beginning of 2018, the number of nodes on the Bitcoin network was typically over 10,000 at a time, meaning that to take over the network an attacker would need to figure out how to get access to and simultaneously change information on over 5,000 machines located in different parts of the world. The world “simultaneously” in the previous sentence is very important, because if the attacker were to try and change information on just one machine at a time, then it would be really easy for the network to reject the changes.
The blockchain technology has an enormous potential because ledgers stand at the core of many human inventions and systems. For example, a banking system, in essence, is a ledger. Systems that confirm, store and manage information about identities and assets are also ledgers. A shipping and logistics network is a ledger of cargo leaving ports, arriving at ports and being in transit between ports. Archeologists have found that ledgers appear together with the first written communication artifacts. In Ancient Near East, writing and keeping information in ledgers were developing at the same time because while people were creating a writing system not just to communicate, but also to keep track of production, debts, and balances. Ancient clay tablets have information about rations, taxes, numbers of workers and times of their shifts, and more. The first international communications were also done via a ledger.
These communications have also developed in the Ancient Near East, between 2,400 and 1,200 BCE. Documents that researchers have discovered indicate that the communications involved over 150 independent kinds over a period of 30 years. The system used clay tablets for communication and the tablets look a lot like ledgers with information about orders and treaties. These tablets contained information about gift exchanges, codes of meetings, hospitality and signs of respect, and descriptions of hierarchies.
At the same time, the ancient people were fully aware of the issues with insecure and unverified communication messages. The earliest writing documents that archaeologists were able to discover contain word lists for teaching writing and language. One of the earliest functions of writing was also to help people memorize things better in the context of the administration of their work and their daily lives. This being said, scientists believe that important government communications have been developing around the same time. The findings show that diplomatic relations between various groups of people have existed long before the invention of writing and that people were using writing not just for communication, but also to create hierarchies about how to communicate messages and the way they created these hierarchies was by creating ledgers.
For example, archeologists have found a clay tablet in Syria with a copy of a diplomatic message from the king of Ebla to the king of Hamazi. The structure of the message is very similar to the structure of transactions on the Bitcoin blockchain. Just like the Bitcoin network establishes senders and receivers of funds, the message on the clay tablet started with establishing the sender and the receiver of the message. Then, the tablet established a hierarchical order of the parties involved in the communication. All kings at the time addressed each other as brothers, which is very similar to the way blockchain networks treat the nodes of the networks, meaning that the parties are equal and have a reciprocal relationship.
Many historians argue that ancient kings were choosing to build relationships in this way to avoid potential anarchy and that during ancient times it was easier to treat other kings as equals than to have wars about power. However, later in the human history, hierarchies became more complex. For example, kings had sons, fathers, brothers and the new levels of relationships between kings have appeared. At a certain point, these relationships stopped being simple “brotherhoods.”
The letter then describes the details about the transaction, which included an exchange rope, wagons, and horses. Finally, the letter ends with what modern information technology scientists would describe as metadata. The letter says that the transaction is being done by the officials representing specific kings and goes over the relationship between the kings. Finally, it ends with a signature that confirms the validity of the message as a part of the transaction.