Today is this blog’s birthday, and I want to do a fun, informative blog post. Five years ago this day I started this blog. Intention – my personal web blog. I wrote this blog for me and still today whatever I learn I share here. I don’t want to wander too far off topic, though, so I will write about two of my favorite things – history and databases. And what better way to cover these two topics than to talk about the history of databases.
If you want to be technical, databases as we know them today only date back to the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, when computers began to keep records and store memories. But the idea of memory storage didn’t just appear 40 years ago – there was a history behind wanting to keep these records.
In fact, the written word originated as a way to keep records – ancient man didn’t decide they suddenly wanted to read novels, they needed a way to keep track of the harvest, of their flocks, and of the tributes paid to the local lord. And that is how writing and the database began. You could consider the cave paintings from 17,0000 years ago at Lascaux, France, or the clay token from the ancient Sumerians in 8,000 BC to be the first instances of record keeping – and thus databases.
If you prefer, you can consider the advent of written language to be the first database. Many historians believe the first written language appeared in the 37th century BC, with Egyptian hieroglyphics. The ancient Sumerians, not to be outdone, also created their own written language within a few hundred years.
Databases could be more closely described as collections of information, in which case the Sumerians win the prize for the first archive. A collection of 20,000 stone tablets was unearthed in 1964 near the modern day city Tell Mardikh, in Syria. This ancient database is from 2,500 BC, and appears to be a sort of law library where apprentice-scribes copied important documents. Further archaeological digs hope to uncover the palace library, and thus an even larger database.
Of course, the most famous ancient database would have to be the Royal Library of Alexandria, the great collection of records and wisdom in ancient Egypt. It was created by Ptolemy I, and existed from 300 BC through 30 AD, when Julius Caesar effectively erased the hard drives when he accidentally set fire to it. As any programmer knows who has forgotten to hit “save” or has experienced a sudden power outage, thousands of hours of work was lost in a single instant.
Databases existed in very similar conditions up until recently. Cuneiform tablets gave way to papyrus, which led to vellum, and eventually modern paper and the printing press. Someday the databases we rely on so much today will become another chapter in the history of record keeping. Who knows what the databases of tomorrow will look like!
Reference: Pinal Dave (http://blog.SQLAuthority.com)