If a time machine could transport us back to the ancient lands of the nomads, an incalculable number of years ago, to the plains as far as the eye could see, lashed by biting winds, we would find it extremely comfortable to seek refuge in one of their tents.
But how would we close the felt door to keep out the wind? At the time the answer was simple: a peg in the ground or a bolt. Sitting comfortably on rugs, perhaps drinking something warm, we might catch sight of a number of treasure chests where the most precious items were kept. A needle lock secured the eyelet of the lid to the two fixtures on the front.
This is everything that can be said about the most ancient origin and history of locks. We would have to wait until man discovered the advantages of sedentary life to witness the creation of the key that was conceptually similar to those that are still in use today.
Now let’s move toAnatolia. Here we find the first city of which we have evidence, Çatal Üyük, where the houses were entered through hatches in the roof, held closed by a weight.
We must head south, following the course of the Tigris and the Euphrates, and enter the famous fertile crescent to hear the echo of the ancient languages of the Babylonians, such as Sikkuru or Sekretu, that led us to believe that already 4000 years ago people knew how to make locks secure and to safeguard their secrets. If we imagined hearing these peoples conversing, their use of language would confirm to us that the key had already assumed symbolic meanings.
But to find concrete traces about the origin of locks we need to venture along the banks of the Nile. The ancient Egyptians not only closed using ties around two knobs or sliding bolts between the roller guides but also employed latches operated both from the inside and the outside with various instruments such as the gaff-key that enters the door jamb or the teeth key that raises the tenons. Even the god Anubis had a key with three teeth and the priests used one to touch the mouth of the mummies before burial.
This was because the riches kept in Egypt were not only material but also spiritual and there was also a key for these. Whether it represented the union of Isis and Osiris, or the rising of the sun on the horizon or the course of the Nile to the delta, the Ankh or Key of Life was perhaps the most powerful symbol of all those used by the people of the pyramids and by its many gods. A key to unlock the secrets of immortality.