Discovery of a thousand-year-old 'smartphone'

It may not have speakers or Bluetooth connectivity, but experts have unearthed what could be considered the world’s first smartphone, dating back a thousand years.

Publication: 07.03.2024 - 11:54
Discovery of a thousand-year-old 'smartphone'
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According to indy100, this ancient device, known as an 'astrolabe', was stumbled upon by Dr. Federica Gigante, a research fellow at the University of Cambridge, during a casual browse on a museum website in Verona, Italy.

A Serendipitous Discovery in a Verona Museum

Dr. Gigante discovered the astrolabe by chance on a museum's website in Verona, Italy. She noted, "The museum didn't know what it was." On visiting the museum and inspecting the 'astrolabe' more closely, Dr. Gigante was captivated not only by the beautifully carved Arabic inscriptions but also by faint Hebrew markings, visible only under the sharp light streaming through a window. "I thought I was dreaming, but as I looked more, I kept seeing more. It was thrilling. This isn’t just an incredibly rare object. It's a powerful record of hundreds of years of scientific exchange among Arabs, Jews, and Christians."

Regarded as the First Smartphone

Historian Tom Almeroth-Williams refers to astrolabes as the world's first smartphones. An article published on the University of Cambridge’s website clarified that these intricate star maps functioned as "a portable computer suitable for hundreds of uses."

The astrolabe identified by Dr. Gigante is one of the only known devices of its kind and is among the oldest examples discovered to date. It underwent adaptations, translations, and corrections by Muslim, Jewish, and Christian users across Spain, North Africa, and Italy over centuries. "The Verona astrolabe underwent many changes, additions, and adaptations as it changed hands," said Dr. Gigante.

A Muslim Heritage

Thanks to its scientific, design, manufacturing, and calligraphic features, the Cambridge research fellow traced the origin of this first 'smartphone'. She deduced that the object originally came from Andalusia, matching it with instruments made in the Muslim-governed region of Spain based on the engraving and stamp patterns on its back.

This discovery not only highlights a remarkable piece of technology from the past but also underscores the rich, intercultural exchange of knowledge that transcended religious and geographic boundaries.

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