The Lord of the Rings movies are classics for the holiday season. The mythological past of J.R.R. Tolkien is so influential that it even inspired a Dutch town, Geldrop, to name streets after the inhabitants of Middle Earth. As Tolkien fans know, there are many ways in Middle Earth for different beings to communicate over long distances. The fire beacons of Gondor, the horn of Boromir, the eagles of Manwë, and the war drums of Orcs are among some fantastic examples. Yet even fans may not know that they are quite in tune with the factual past. Long-distance communication has been critical throughout the history of humanity and is obviously not a modern era phenomenon. But how did people communicate at a distance before the arrival of smartphones?