The excavations at Yenikapi, the location of the old harbor of Byzantium, have continued to amaze archaeologists for years now with the fantastic preservation of organic materials at the site, from the particularly poorly known periods of the Late Roman and Early Byzantine Empires. I’ve actually written previously on this blog about some of the work Cornell University’s Dedrochronology Lab has done with all the wood from ships and piers that have come out of this amazing archaeology site! But today, we’ve got something really different!
This particular artifact has made a bit of a stir, first because its genuinely very very cool, and second because some archaeologists or journalists have decided to pithily compare it to the modern laptop. This kind of comparison isn’t all that unusual in archaeology today – its a technique pioneered by Prof. Ian Hodder of Stanford who referred to trade of Neolithic obsidian blades at Çatalhöyük as being like the invention of the credit card. (Bonus: In the comments, tell us what you think about this sort of aggrandizing behavior in archaeology!)
But before you scoff at this seemingly ridiculous comparison between a some strange pieces of wood and our modern marvels of aluminum, silicon, and plastic, step back and you might realize that it could actually be an interesting and useful analogy. This artifact is a more complex version of an object we know from other, earlier, excavations of ships. In fact one of these, a diptych, was found on the Bronze Age (that’s 2000 years before this one!) shipwreck at Uluburun. The pages of diptychs or triptychs (depending on whether they had two or three pages), consisted of wooden frames and backs into which wax was poured. Once the wax hardened, you had a book that you could take notes in with a wooden stylus, erase, and reuse, to record information you only needed for awhile, or to save until you had a chance to write it down properly somewhere. No fiddling about with ink or charcoal or paper, which one can imagine onboard ship was particularly useful.
This particular notebook is even more interesting than others we know of though – in addition to multiple pages, rather than just two or three, this one has a sliding compartment in which weights would have been stored, which would have been used for calculating purchases and weighing coins! So, notes, measuring, and computing, all in one small convenient package that you can hold in one hand! Its practically an iPad! Okay, maybe that’s stretching it a bit…’
Image Credit and News Source: Hurriyet Daily News