Codes and codebreaking

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the UNE Museum of Antiquities (UNEMA), we're holding a short exhibition: Codes and Codebreaking, which looks at some of the technological advances behind the development of writing (encoding) and secret messages (steganography and cryptography).

See the exhibition below then have a go at our codebreaking challenge.

Codes and codebreaking exihibition cabinet

Part I of this exhibition, A history of writing technology (encoding), explores some key developments in writing technology from antiquity to the modern era. It investigates a variety of tools used to construct written messages from the stone age to the digital era.

Part II of this exhibition, Science of secret messages (cryptology), explores some key developments in the thinking and technology behind the art of cryptography. It will take you on a journey from the Bronze Age to the Digital Byte.

Some key terms 
AlphabetLetters or symbols (graphemes), usually arranged in a set order, that represent the significant sounds (phonemes) of a spoken language.
WritingA system that allows messages to be recorded, communicated, and read.
TranslationRendering the same message into more than one language.
SteganographyThe practice of hiding the fact that a message has been communicated.
CiphersThese disguise the meaning of messages by replacing each letter with a symbol.
CodesThese disguise the meaning of messages by replacing whole words or phrases with predetermined words, numbers, or symbols.
AlgorithmThe rules followed to encrypt messages using a cipher.
KeyThe exact detail chosen to encrypt a specific message.
CryptanalysisThe practice of breaking codes and ciphers.
Artefact information

Part I: A History of Writing Technology (Encoding)

Section 1. Hard Media

Object I.1.1:

Roman Tombstone, Replica
Rome, Italy
2nd century BC

Object I.1.2:

MA-Loan 2019.3.5
Mallet and Chisel
Stone Mason’s Tools

Object I.1.3:

Gupta Period Coin
c.AD 320-480

Object I.1.4:

Calif Harun Al-Rashid Coin
Baghdad, Iraq
c. AD 763-809

Object I.1.5:

Brass Cash Coin
AD 996

Object I.1.6:

Edo Era Brass Coin
AD 1835

Section 2: Softer Media

Object I.2.0:

Cuneiform Cylinder, Replica
c.681-669 BC

Object I.2.1:

Cuneiform Tablet with Envelope
Old Babylonian, Replica
1750 BC

Object I.2.1a:

MA-Loan 2019.3.16
Cuneiform Stylus, Replica
c.3200-3000 BC

Object I.2.1b:

Cylinder Seal, Replica
Stone showing Sale of an Ibex
c.3000 BC

Object I.2.1c:

Cylinder Seal Impression
Original Syrian Seal in DC4
c.1500 BC

Object I.2.1d:

Conical Seal (Matrix)
Replica, Egypt
1500 BC

Object I.2.1e:

Seal Stamp (Matrix), Replica
c.3500 BC

Object I.2.1f:

Clay Seal Impression, Replica
Mohenjo Daro, Pakistan
c.2400-2000 BC

Object I.2.1g:

Clay Seal Impression, Replica
Ugarit Alphabet, Syria
c.1450-1200 BC

Object I.2.2:

Roman Wax Tablets, Replica
Letter of M. Cicero
7th June 49 BC

Object I.2.2a:

Roman Stylus
2nd century AD

Object I.2.3:

Papyrus, Egypt
Hunting Waterfowl

Object I.2.4:

Palm Leaf (Ola) Horoscope
Deva Negara Script, Myanmar

Object I.2.5:

MA-Loan 2019.3.13
Slate Chalkboard and “Chalk”
Used in India by 11th century AD
Used in Europe by 14th century AD

Object I.2.6a:

MA-Loan 2019.3.17
Pheasant Feather Quills
Mediterranean Region since
c.2nd century BC

Object I.2.6b:

MA-Loan 2019.3.1
Seal Matrix & Resin Wax
Wax Seals Were Widespread By 13th century AD

Object I.2.6c:

MA-Loan 2019.3.3
Red Fountain Pen with Ink & Nibs
Invented in Arab Egypt
10th century AD

Object I.2.6d:

MA-Loan 2019.3.2
Black Dip Pen with Ink & Nibs
Invented in Roman Britain
AD 43-410

Object I.2.6e:

MA-Loan 2019.3.4
Purple Calligraphy Ink Brush
Invented in China
c.300 BC

Section 3: Printing

Object I.3.1:

MA-Loan 2019.3.18
Scroll: Replica
Mediterranean: Papyrus/Parchment
China: Silk/Bamboo/Paper

Object I.3.2:

Codex: Confucius Book of Wisdom
Woodblock Printing & Stitched
China, post AD 1500

Object I.3.3:

MA-Loan 2019.3.14
StarTrekTM Ink Block Stamp
Stamp mimics Woodblock printing techniques
c.AD 1996

Object I.3.4:

MA-Loan 2019.3.44
Moveable-Type Punch-Stamps
Showing individual letters on metal stalks
c.AD 1996

Object I.3.5:

MA-Loan 2019.3.1
Lead Pencil (Graphite)
Invented Cumbria, England

Object I.3.6:

MA-Loan 2019.3.2
Ball Point Pen
Invented Massachusetts & Hungary
AD 1888 & 1939 respectively

Section 4: Digital Age

Object I.4.0:

MA-Loan 2019.3.6
Apple iPad First Gen & Black PC Stylus
AD 2010

Object I.4.1:

MA-Loan 2019.3.47
USB Keys
AD 2015

Object I.4.2:

MA-Loan 2019.3.46
Logitech Keyboard
AD 2010

Object I.4.3:

MA-Loan 2019.3.45
Apple iPad White Stylus
AD 2010

Image I.4.4:

Computer Microchip
21st century AD

Part II: The Science of Secret Messages (Encryption and Decryption)

Section 1. Antiquity

Object II.1.1:

MA-Loan 2019.3.15
Scytalae, Replica
7th century BC

Section 2. The Middle Ages

Object II.2.1:

MA-Loan 2019.3.9
Alberti Cipher Disc, Replica
The Vatican, Italy
15th century AD

Section 3. From Renaissance to Revolution

Object II.3.1:

MA-Loan 2019.3.12
Mexican Army Cipher
Replica, Mexico
c. AD 1913

Object II.3.2:

MA-Loan 2019.3.10
Braille Cipher Disc
Creative Crafthouse, Florida
AD 2019

Section 4. The Modern Era

Object II.4.1:

MA-Loan 2019.3.11
Enigma, Simulation Model
Creative Crafthouse, Florida
c. AD 1930s

Image II.4.2:

Enigma Letter Pathway Diagram
Explanatory Schematic produced by UNEMA

Image II.4.3:

Matrix Graphic of Binary Digits

Image II.4.4:

Imaginative Schematic of the Universe


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