Retiring the Black Writing Boards

It was only about 15 years ago the whiteboards and fancy markers with different colours entered the Nigerian educational system. Back then in my school and most schools, we had blackboard prefects; the pupil had to be tall and have sufficient strength to rob, scour and scrub off the scribbles written with white chalk on the blackboards. These Boards were so big and mostly occupied the front of the class so big that you did not need to wipe them off too often. Maybe it was that big so that pupils do not faint from exhaustion while wiping these boards, Phew!! Our eyes journeyed from one end of the blackboard to the other copying notes, leaving us in a semi-drowsy state. Back then, I had a diminutive teacher who hated using our blackboard and it was not too hard to see why. Those blackboards were cruel, and its name did not help either! If a teacher orders you to go to a whiteboard to answer a question, you might still have some memory left by the time you got to the board but when you are ordered the blackboard, the blackness of this board and its name will immediately make you scared to dubmness. Heading there felt like a dead end.

Okay, enough of calling a great writing system(Blackboard) that gave me most of my knowledge bad names just to make you all laugh. Let’s move further down generations and see what drab writting systems they had.

Before we proceed its fair to state that all the cool writing systems we use now are most likely going to be archaic in 50 years. Writing systems like the touch screens, whiteboards and nice-looking less tacky markers will all be looked at with curiosity by future generations wondering how hard it must have been for us to use these writing systems we think are cool now so lets not laugh too hard.

With no futher ado, here are six encient writting systems.

1. Wood: Wood!? Yep you read right! You probably will need to learn capentary or wood carving first, just kidding but yeah Wood was one of the earliest writing materials, and continued to be used for various purposes. Wood could be inscribed or written on in ink. One interesting use of wood can be seen in our collection of mummy tags. A mummy tag is a piece of wood held by a string around the neck of a mummy, on which the name of the mummified person was written. These tags, which have been likened to modern toe-tags, must have been essential for avoiding embarassing mix-ups at the mummy morgue.

2. Ostraka, also known as pot-sherds, are broken fragments of ancient pottery with writing on them. The writing may be scratched into the surface but most often is in ink. Pot-sherds are very common items to find in an archaeological excavation, and their abundance in the ancient world made them cheap sources of writing material in place of more expensive papyrus. Often, ostraka were used as tax receipts, which one would use as proof of having paid one’s taxes. Below is an example of a tax-receipt ostrakon.

3. Wax tablets: Wax tablets are unique among ancient writing materials because they can be easily erased and reused. They were formed by depositing a thin layer of wax on a flat piece of wood which usually had raised edges, in order that the tablets could be closed without damaging the content.

4. Paper: Paper?! dont feel too cool for using paper its older than 3 generations. The invention of paper is traditionally attributed to the Chinese in the early part of the 2nd century AD. From China, paper travelled west in the 8th century to the Arabs, who then spread the use of paper through their conquests into Europe.

5. Parchment: Parchment is a specially treated form of leather that is soft and durable, making it an excellent writing material. High quality parchment is sometimes referred to as vellum. It is known that parchment was used as a writing material as early as the Ptolemaic era, and it was in fact preferred over papyrus in northern regions, where the climate can be unfavorable for papyrus, and also in Near Eastern regions.

6. Papyrus: Papyrus is the most common writing material stored in archaives all over the world, and it was used for all manner of public documents, private letters, literary and paralitery texts. Nevertheless, papyrus was expensive enough in ancient Egypt that it was often recycled and reused. Many papyri are written on both sides, and old papyrus were sometimes recycled as mummy cartonnage. An entire archive of texts was discovered in the cartonnage of mummified crocodiles at the site of Tebtunis!

Hope you enjoyed this? leave a comment about your experience using the blackboards.