Those crazy sumerians.. You don’t often think of a 5,500 year old civilisation during a technology demonstration. But that’s exactly where I found myself yesterday.
A partner of ours, DocsCorp, was demonstrating its quite powerful range of tools for working with PDF files. We were discussing the annotations that can be made particularly in the context of marking up documents to obscure personal information in documents released under freedom of information processes.
The conversation branched into how their tools could stamp electronic documents. Think stamping approvals on building plans to mark them as approved. While listening to Terence describe the options to design stamps, control access, stamp multiple pages in a single action etc.. I suddenly wondered at how much effort had been expended in mimicking this concept from the physical world in an electronic context. Is this the best idea we have for noting an approval?
This is clearly a very durable concept. The Sumerian civilisation used cylinder seals to roll over wet clay. The cylinder seals were developed around 5,500 years ago and were an evolution of earlier flat stamps like the one pictured above. The cylinder when rolled across the clay gave a large impression area but were much smaller and easier to carry around than a flat stamp of the same area. The seals were used as an administrative tools to notarise inventories and authorise payments - much like we use a signature today. As they evolved the cylinder seals became increasingly ornate and items of decoration and jewellery in their own right.
So here we are in the 21st century with all our perceptions of sophistication and yet we haven’t really progressed beyond this concept of marking approval from an early bronze age civilisation. Sure we’ve got a better clay tablet…