Will Scully-Power

A visual history of data capture through the ages
March 29, 2011, 1:14 am
Filed under: Data, Datarati | Tags:

Tally Sticks

20,000-10,000 BC

The Ishango bone, a tally stick from the Upper Palaeolithic era, represents 
the beginnings of our understanding of mathematics and data.


3,500 BC

Egyptian obelisks show humans manipulating light and shadows to measure data about the time of day.


3,000 BC

Papyrus, manufactured in Egypt, revolutionises the way data and language can be recorded.


2,700 BC

Ancient civilisations develop a counting system that enables complex data manipulation.


800-500 BC

In Israel, a primitive census is undertaken and recorded in the Hebrew Bible. Social data capture is born.

The Book on Numbers and Computation

200 BC

Dating back to the Han Dynasty of ancient China, this mathematical treatise brings together interest rate calculations with government statutes and law reports.

Navigational Compass

1000s AD

Chinese scientists develop instruments that attract a needle north, creating a navigational tool only recently superseded by GPS.

The Domesday Book

1086 AD

William the Conqueror conducts a survey in England and Wales recording land and livestock. It takes over a year to complete.

Stock Exchanges

1200s AD

The earliest stock exchanges emerge in Bruges and Italy in the thirteenth century. Data about trades is written down by scribes and transported by couriers.

Gregorian Calendar

1582 AD

Pope Gregory XIII launches the Gregorian calendar to eradicate an 11-minute discrepancy in the Julian calendar, which is causing the official date of equinox to creep further away from the actual cosmological event.


1600s AD

Cornelius Drebbel, Robert Fludd, Galileo Galilei and Santorio Santorio make progress on a device to measure temperature in real time.


1600s AD

Scientists in the Netherlands develop a refracting telescope that Galileo improves in subsequent years. The instrument observes remote objects in real time.

Analytical Engine

1837 AD

Charles Babbage develops the Analytical Engine, and modern computation is born.


1837 AD

The first commercial telegraph is introduced at Euston Station. It soon crosses the oceans to every continent but Antarctica, making instant global communication possible for the first time.

Data Visualisation

1857 AD

During the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale records the mortality rates of British soldiers in field hospitals. The information is published in a series of striking graphics, persuading the government to improve conditions.

Wireless Telegraph

1897 AD

Guglielmo Marconi founds The Wireless Telegraph & Signal Company, pioneering communication between coastal radio stations and ships at sea.


1904 AD

Christian Hülsmeyer uses radio waves to detect distant metallic objects, inventing the first radar application.


1957 AD

Sputnik – the first artificial satellite – is launched by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957, as a global positioning system for precise weapon delivery and paves the way for GPS as we know it today.

Personal Computer

1970s AD

Hewlett-Packard introduces programmable computers that fit on top of a desk. The personal computer allows economical collection and management of data.

Radio-frequency Identification

1980s AD

Radio-frequency identification technology (RFID) takes hold in transportation and business. Real-time monitoring systems are developed to process the new data.

Hubble Space Telescope

1993 AD

The Hubble Space Telescope captures images of outer space in real time, allowing scientists to determine the rate of expansion of the universe.

Supermarket Metrics

1995 AD

Tesco’s Clubcard scheme revolutionises consumer metrics by allowing supermarkets to target offers and optimise their stocks.

Cluster Exploratory

2008 AD

Cluster Exploratory (CluE) is a National Science Foundation-funded program that analyses massive amounts of data to search for patterns.

Google Earth Engine

2010 AD

The Google Earth Engine – a cloud computing platform – processes real-time satellite imagery and other Earth observation data. Initial applications of the platform include mapping the forests of Mexico, identifying water in the Congo basin, and detecting deforestation in the Amazon.

More: http://thinkquarterly.co.uk/01-data/from-sticks-to-clouds/



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