Have you ever switched on your smartphone or adjusted the thermostat of your heating and cooling unit and found yourself wondering how human beings have managed to come this far? It is amazing, really, to think that we have progressed to a point of living such a comfortable, connected, and automated life.
Although we’ve come a long way, modern society can’t take all the credit for the amazing inventions of today. In fact, in many ways we have ancient civilizations to thank for creating the foundation for many of the modern technology we use day in and day out.
Though it’s easy to assume that ancient life was incredibly primitive, there were actually many ancient inventions that were impressively ahead of their time. These seven ancient devices are examples of creations that changed the world and set the stage for modern inventions.
The Fabric That Changed the Future of Technology
First on the list is a weaving loom from the 19th century that operated on an incredibly basic form of computer programming long before computers were so much as a thought.
The Jacquard loom, named for its inventor Joseph Marie Jacquard of France, was used to weave incredibly elaborate textiles and was certainly the first of its kind.
The automated loom was invented in the early 1800s and took the world of textiles to the next level, according to Steve Wolf, host of the Ancient Impossible on The History Channel.
“They developed a punch card system, where, as the shuttle traveled back and forth, if it hit a block it went back,” Wolf explains in an interview for Urbo. “If there was a hole drilled in the block, the shuttle continued on. So, it was a way of automating, hundreds of years ago, the weaving of fabrics.”
The Jacquard loom didn’t just change the the world of weaving textiles, it would become the groundwork for early computer programming, according to Wolf. The same punch system used for the loom served as the inspiration for Charles Babbage’s very first programmable machine, the Analytical Engine, which was invented in the year 1834.
This “computer” operated on a punch system, just like the loom, and eventually led to the invention of the early computers of the 1950s and ’60s, which then led to the invention of the computers we use today.
The Waste Product That Changed the Ancient World
It’s no secret that the British Navy was the world’s most powerful navy for nearly 100 years over the course of the 19th century. What isn’t as well known is that an accidental discovery is partially responsible for their domination, says Wolf.
Although it is true that there were many factors at play that led to their place of power in the world, their discovery of tar pitch was one way they had the upper hand on other navies.
“The development of the British Navy and its superiority over all other navies was because they were able to develop that most waterproof ships that had ever existed,” Wolf explains. “Tar pitch was something that had come about as an industrial waste product as a result of burning coal in the factories. As they burned coal, they ended up with this tar-y sludge leftover. They tried to wash it away, but discovered it wouldn’t dissolve in water.”
This discovery led them to use tar pitch as a waterproofing material on their ships and, according to Wolf, this allowed the British Navy to become the most powerful of their time. Of course, we now know that through naval domination, the British Navy was able change the course of history as they invaded and conquered much of the globe.
The Groundbreaking Invention That Never Took Off
In some cases, inventions showed so much promise they could have changed the world, but flawed logic prohibited the device’s true potential. In the case of the Hindenburg, the ability to be lighter than air could have become a groundbreaking invention. But it never really took off, thanks to one awful disaster.
“It showed great promise, the development of lighter-than-air vessels. When the Nazis decided to shortcut the process of using helium and used hydrogen instead, they ended up creating the Hindenburg. Which, after it made 63 international flights, blew up in New Jersey,” says Wolf.
The Hindenburg was 200 feet above the ground when it burst into flames; 22 of the 61 crew members and 13 of the 36 passengers died, according to The Guardian. Surprisingly, airships like the Hindenburg had been flying for 30 years but this crash changed the future of light-than-air vessels for one specific reason.
“It was the first air disaster caught on film and, as a result of the number of people who saw that, it essentially killed that mode of transportation to this day. Even though it’s safe, it never caught on because of the imagery of the Hindenburg,” explains Wolf, who says the use of helium isn’t out of the question in the modern world.
It has been used in the logging industry to move trees for some time, but since it is becoming a scarce resource the use of helium has become limited over the last several years.
The Flying Robot Credited as the First Drone
Drones have been used in recent years to capture incredible photos and footage and, thanks to Amazon, will soon deliver packages. Despite its super-modern design, this amazing device goes way, way back.
It’s believed that the first robotic bird was invented by ancient Greek mathematician Archytas of Tarentum, according to Smithsonian. Created in the year 350 B.C.E., what was believed to be the world’s first robot was constructed from wood in the shape of a pigeon.
Although there are many unanswered questions about this first documented, automated device, what we know was preserved by Hero of Alexandria, another mathematician who came around a few hundred years after Archytas.
This automated bird could fly as far as 200 meters; researchers believe it got its power from either compressed air or a steam engine and flew on a pulley system.
The Clay Pot That Has Created Much Debate
In an area of southeast Baghdad known as Khujut Rabu, the Baghdad Battery has been the source of much debate among archeologists and scientists alike.
According to Atlas Obscura, these ancient devices were originally dismissed as just clay pots sitting in the collection of the National Museum of Iraq. In 1938, however, archivists discovered that they contain copper and iron.
Since this discovery, it has been theorized that these 12 pots were used as batteries. By replicating the device and filling it with vinegar, scientists were able to produce 1.1. volts, according to the Smith College Museum.
Still, no one seems to be in agreement that these devices were actually used to conduct electricity since there is no documentation of the clay pots. Some say it is possible that they were merely use to store sacred scrolls, since using pots for this purpose was common practice at the time.
If they were used as batteries, the electricity they conducted wasn’t used in the way it is today. Instead, it is hypothesized that it was used in a process called electroplating, an ancient practice of plating one metal with thin layers of gold or silver.
The First Method for Heating Indoor Spaces
As if we need one more reason to be impressed with ancient architecture, ancient Rome took it to the next level with their amazing system for heating indoor spaces.
The original HVAC system, the hypocaust, was originally created as a means of heating saunas over 2,000 years ago, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
When the Romans constructed their public bathhouses, they built small rooms beneath the pools of water. Fires were used to heat these rooms, which in turn heated the pools above.
This invention was adapted to be used in private homes as well. Small basements were constructed, supported by large piers. This is where the heating fires were located. The floor of living space was constructed by concrete, covered with tile, and the warm air from the space below was funneled into the living areas using a flue.
As amazing as the invention might have been, it simply wasn’t sustainable for the long term, since these fires required constant tending to maintain a comfortable temperature in the homes they heated. Some modern homes now have radiant heating throughout their floors, thanks to the Romans.
The Computer That Spent 2,000 Years Under Water
Over a hundred years after the Antikythera Mechanism was retrieved by divers in 1900, researchers finally settled on a solid theory for its use.
This ancient artifact was a mystery for sometime, containing technology that was much more advanced than would be expected from something dated to 205 B.C.E., according to Smithsonian.
Researchers now believe that this amazing device was the first computer. It is believed to have been used as a means of tracking the moon and the sun. It is even believed to have been used to predict eclipses and some of the inscriptions on the device indicate if could have been used to predict the locations of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
There is one thing scientists still don’t know: Who deserves the credit for this amazingly advanced, ancient device? The best prediction is that it was invented by one of the well known Greek scientists of the time.