No cell phone: how do you communicate long-distance?

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Get out your imagination. Consider this…

You live in a world without cell phones, without cars, or even bicycles or horses to ride.

You walk if you want to go somewhere overland.

You and people living in the places you have been to and heard about live in small villages and hamlets scattered across the landscape. The largest communities have several hundred residents. There are places where no one lives between the villages and hamlets.

So, if you want to communicate with someone who lives several villages distant, how do you do it?

This is somewhat like people experienced in some times and areas here in Georgia. However…consider Iron Age Britain. This was a real time when people lived as described above.

How would you communicate?

Would you walk to the next town? Would you try to make an instrument to amplify your voice—something that would work like a megaphone? Would you send someone with a note?

Where northeast Wales bumps up against England, just south of Liverpool, archeologists and adventurers spent a night in March 2011 performing a communication experiment.

Leon Peute PICT5391 panoramio edited

Leon Peute’s photograph of Moel Arthur, one of the Welsh hill forts visited by researchers, posted on Panoramio here.

BBC hillforts ten experiment

Researchers dispersed to ten hill forts. Hill forts are defensible communities built on the tops of certain hills. This pattern of occupying defensible locations has been recorded for certain periods and locales around the globe.

In an article dated 20 March 2011, the BBC online reports:

About 200 volunteers stood on the summit of 10 hillforts in north Wales, the Wirral and Cheshire, and signalled to each other with torches.

Their aim was to learn if communities used the summits to warn each other.

And, what did they learn from their experiment with hilltop fires?

“Most of the hill forts across the surrounding landscape can be seen from each other,” explained Ms Robinson from Denbighshire’s Heather and Hillforts project.

Did you think of this form of communication? It doesn’t offer the possibility of subtle messaging, but it does allow communication!

After all, when Paul Revere made his “midnight” ride in April 1775, didn’t he count the lanterns burning in the steeple of the Boston church to know how troops were approaching? Henry Wadsworth Longfellow recorded it in his 1860 poem “Paul Revere’s Ride”:

One if by land, and two if by sea…

What do you think of the night-lighting experiment? How could hillfort-fires communicate more complex information?