Ancient ‘iPad’ Uncovered in Byzantine Shipwreck

The repulsion of the Rus' attack on Constantinople in 941 by the Byzantine fleet Chronicle of John Skylitzes, cod. Vitr. 26-2, fol. 130, Madrid National Library (13th century)
The Byzantine fleet as seen in the Chronicle of John Skylitzes (circa 13th century. Courtesy of the Madrid National Library.

Turkish archaeologists have discovered what they have dubbed a “Byzantine iPad” in a 9th century shipwreck, reports Discovery News. The artifact was found on board a vessel dubbed Yenikapı 12 in the once-bustling Byzantine port of Theodosius (now silted over and lying some 985 feet from the water).

The primitive, 1,200-year-old “iPad” only had note-taking and calculating capabilities, and carrying one around would have been like stacking five 7-inch iPads in your hand. This hunk of wood may be a far cry from our modern-day shiny, metal, magic machines, but as a piece of handheld technology it was still way ahead of its time.

Each of the 5 wooden panels are covered in wax for note-taking, as evident by the still-visible Medieval Greek scrawls. This wax is particularly nifty because instead of writing on expensive, one-time-use-only animal-skin parchment or papyrus, a scribe only needed to give the wax a quick rub to reveal a clean slate. And if, say, the information needed be kept, the wax was up to the task—the writing can literally last a thousand years.

The Byzantine "iPad." Photo: Ufuk Kocabaş, via Discovery News.

The Byzantine “iPad.” Photo: Ufuk Kocabaş, via Discovery News.

Additionally, the bottom panel of the proto-iPad contains a sliding lid revealing a compartment to store weights. It is thought that since the small weights were found on a merchant ship, they were used in valuing payment of metal coinage or the like. It is likely an assay balance, used to determine the metal content in ore or the amount of precious metal in an alloy.

The forerunner to today’s tablet computer isn’t the only astounding find from this ancient port. Ten years ago, to archaeologists’ delight, 37 sunken ships with a phenomenal amount of preserved artifacts were discovered at the site. According to Magic City Istanbul, many examples of amphorae vases, tableware, coins, candles, figurines, sandals, ropes, pulleys, and anchors were unearthed.

Despite the Yenikapı 12’s advanced age, the vessel retains 60 percent of its organic hull. Archaeologists hope to create a replica of the ship that can sail along its original trade route in the Black Sea, from Crimea to Kersonesos, by 2015. That’s not so long of a wait for a ship that has been stuck in the muck over a millennium.


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