STONE-AGE & ANCIENT
To make this point I have put together a list of stone-age and very old technologies that were actually superior to what we have today.
This list is just the tip of the iceberg, there are, no doubt, many other ancient achievements that qualify. In this list, I tried to include a full historical range from Paleolithic to medieval and a full range of accomplishment from tools to mathematics, to materials, to structures, to timekeeping.
(Right) However, they looked like this man on the right, whose clothes and outfit are based on historical findings.
along with links to articles
Known as a corbel vault, the stones fit together in a precise manner.
#6. 850 BCE: The Caravan Bridge in Turkey, near the Greek town of Smyrna (now called Izmir), is the oldest bridge in continuous use according to The Guinness Book of World Records. (See below.)
#9. 125 CE: The Roman Pantheon, made with Roman concrete, has the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world after almost 2000 years. (See below.)
#10. 2nd Century CE: The Tower of Hercules in north-west Spain is the oldest continuous use lighthouse. It was built by the Romans. It has only been renovated once in 1791. (See below.)
#11. 600 CE: The Anji Bridge in China has been used continuously for 1400 years in spite of wars, ten major floods and a number of earthquakes. (See below.)
#12. 628 CE: The mathematical number zero (0) was invented by the Indian mathematician Brahmagupta. The concept of zero completed what those in the west call 'Arabic Numerals' and now forms the foundation of business, science, and technology. (See below.)
#13. 1410 CE: For six hundred years a complex astronomical clock in Prague (the Prague Orloj) has been displaying more than twenty functions about the sun, moon, stars, and time. It is the oldest continuous use astronomical clock that still has its original gearing. (See below.)
#1. 50,000 years ago?: Obsidian super sharp knives
Paleolithic peoples had been working with obsidian for at least 300,000 years. Exactly when these cultures learned to make extremely sharp tools out of obsidian is just an educated guess.
Obsidian was volcanic glass and only found around volcanoes. It was highly valued and might be thought of as the 'gold' of stone technology. Archeologists are just discovering that it was traded via networks over a thousand mile distance during the stone-age. It was used for a variety of tools.
Stone-age people were masters of stone. They understood the properties of a wide range of stones, where to find and mine them, how to shape them using a variety of techniques such as knapping and heat treating, and how to design them for greatest effect. We are only just beginning to understand that stone-technology was complex and required considerable skill.
#2. 15k-40k years old: Long-lasting cave paintings by Paleolithic people
Everything about the Paleolithic cave paintings is remarkable -- but for the purposes of this list, it is the fact that these paintings have lasted for 20,000 years and more.
However, there is so much more to this story. As I pointed out about obsidian (above) stone-age people were masters of stone. Cave painting artists used a variety of colors along with carefully powdered stone that was used for many of the pigments. This mixture was then applied to the stone walls of the cave. With their understanding of the properties of stone, I believe these artists were quite aware that these paintings could last indefinitely.
One particular method of painting was also quite amazing. It was essentially an airbrush technique. The painter used a number of hollow tubes such as bird bones that he blew air through to propel the powdered paint onto the walls.
Read this fascinating pdf document about the sophisticated process of making pigments for cave paintings. Prehistoric pigments - Royal Society of Chemistry
#3. 3,200 BCE: The Neolithic Passage Tomb at Newgrange, Ireland stayed dry for 5000 years
To our modern eyes, the crude looking rock structures of the Neolithic do not look very exact. However, like the Paleolithic people mentioned above, the Neolithic or New Stone-Age people were masters of stone, in fact, they reached the pinnacle of stone technology. In Newgrange, these raw stones were selected and put together in such a way that they stayed in place for more than 5000 years. And the structure did not leak during that time. While the building looks crude, it is anything but. It is a masterpiece.
#4. 3,200 BCE: The winter solstice passageway "instrument" at the Newgrange Passage Tomb indicates the day of the winter solstice in real time
The author of this blog researched the winter solstice passageway at Newgrange. He concluded that the passageway and the carefully constructed 'roof box' that baffled the light, was a precise instrument. This instrument magnified the sun's rays so that experienced Neolithic astronomers would have been able to tell the exact day of the winter solstice in real time -- which the Greeks and Romans could not do. They, instead, did a calculation after the fact. Even today the winter solstice is not determined by direct observation but rather by calculation. Furthermore, no other huge instrument of this type and accuracy has ever been constructed as far as we know.
#5. 2000/500 BCE approx.: Sumerian/Babylonian The invention and application of 360 degrees
The Sumerians and later the Babylonians were gifted mathematicians. They worked with the sexagesimal number system in which 60 was the base. For some reason, they settled on the number 360 (a multiple of 60) when working with circles. Each circle was 360 degrees and each degree could be subdivided into 60 minutes. While it does not seem like it, 360 is a remarkable number. It is divisible by all numbers up to ten except for the number seven -- and many other numbers as well.
The Babylonians applied 360 degrees to circles and then later to the circle of the sky which they then subdivided into 60 minutes of arc per degree (arcminute) and 60 seconds of arc per minute (arcsecond). This basic numerical and geometric system was perfected by the Babylonians and then applied to astronomy and is still used today. And it is also used today in navigation, optics, and land surveying. In addition, 360 degrees is now used for the longitude of the Earth and was essential for the creation of world time zones. There are 24 time zones, each one hour apart, which when divided into 360 (the total degrees of the Earth) equals 15 degrees exactly. So each time zone is approximately 15 degrees wide. 360 degrees is also critical for GPS.
This circular thinking affected the creation of a precise regular way to measure time. Time was seen as cyclical and circular. 24 hours was adopted from the Egyptians. Starting with sundials during the day and star charts at night, the Egyptians divided the day and night each into 12 hours or 24 hours total for a full daytime/nighttime circle. 24 hours fit nicely into the Babylonian mathematical system as well, since they liked to work with the number 6 -- and 12 and 24 were multiples of 6. But then when clocks came along and finer divisions were possible, each hour was further divided into 60 minutes and each minute was divided into 60 seconds, all of which was derived from Babylonian mathematics.
"In fact, both the circular face of a clock and the sphere of a globe owe their divisions to a 4,000-year-old numeric system of the Babylonians."
Michael A. Lombardi, Scientific American
#6. 850 BCE: The Caravan Bridge in Turkey -- the oldest bridge still in use
"The oldest datable bridge in the world still in use is the slab-stone single-arch bridge over the river Meles in Izmir (formerly Smyrna), Turkey, which dates from c. 850 BC."
The Guinness Book of World Records
Legend says that the Caravan Bridge was crossed by Homer and St. Paul. But, aside from legend, we can say with certainty that it was crossed over by Alexander the Great. About 500 years after the bridge was constructed, Alexander came to the Greek city of Smyrna in Turkey, fell asleep and dreamt that he should build a new town next to the old one which was later done.
Can any modern bridge even come close to lasting this long?
#7. 19 BCE: The Roman Aqua Virgo aqueduct still supplies the Trevi Fountain in Rome today
The huge Roman aqueduct system was extensive and worked well for hundreds and sometimes more than a thousand years. In particular the Aqua Virgo aqueduct, built during the reign of Augustus, still feeds the Trevi Fountain in Rome today. The aqueduct is 20 km long, goes mostly underground, and drops at a precise gradient of only 4 meters over its 20-kilometer distance.
Also in the 2nd Century CE: The Proserpina earth dam in Spain was built by the Romans. It is still used for irrigation after 1800 years.
#8. Early 1st Century: Roman concrete -- worked/still works better with sea water than modern concrete
"Battered by sea waves for 2,000 years, these things [Roman concrete structures] are still around while our modern concoctions erode over mere decades.
"Now scientists have uncovered the incredible chemistry behind this phenomenon... not only is Roman concrete more durable than what we can make today, but it actually gets stronger over time."
#9. 125 CE: The Roman Pantheon dome -- the largest unreinforced concrete dome
"Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon's dome is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome."
#10. 2nd Century CE: The Tower of Hercules -- the oldest lighthouse still in use
Built by the Romans, the Tower of Hercules stands on a desolate rocky peninsula in north-western Spain, which the Romans considered the end of the Earth. They even named the peninsula, Cape Finisterre, which means the end of the Earth. The design of the lighthouse is believed to be similar to the famous Lighthouse at Alexandria which had stood for more than a thousand years. After 1500 years of use the Tower of Hercules was renovated once in 1791.
#11. 600 CE: The Anji Bridge in China has been used continuously for 1400 years
This bridge has continued to function in spite of a number of earthquakes, eight wars and ten major floods. Every couple of hundred years the ornamental railings have been repaired but not the bridge itself.
#12. 628 CE Arabic numerals -- a simple ten digit system runs the world of money, science, and technology.
The full development of what is known as Arabic numerals (which the Arabs call "Hindu numerals" because the system started there) was completed with the invention of the number zero (0) by the Indian mathematician Brahmagupta in 628. In the tenth century, this numbering system began to be adopted in Europe and then worldwide. No company or nation could run its affairs without this numbering system -- and nothing has proven itself any better, simpler or more useful.
#13. 1410 CE: The Prague astronomical clock (or Prague Orloj) has been keeping time for 600 years. It is the oldest such clock that still has its original gearing and is still working today.
More than a clock it is a medieval planetarium which has over 20 functions. This clock tells not only the time but the positions of the planets, the zodiac, the sun and the moon -- using the Earth-centered geocentric mathematics of Ptolemy who lived around 150 CE. No clocks like this are being built anymore.
"When looking at the clock you’ll see three main mechanisms, which are: the astronomical dial (located on the top. Shows the position of the sun and moon, the zodiacal ring, the old Czech time scale to indicate the time of sunset, and other astronomical details), a calendar with medallions (located below. Represents the months), and “The Walk of the Apostles” (shows figures of the apostles at the hour, every hour, as well as the figure of death represented as a skeleton)."
THESE JUST MISSED THE LIST:
I would like to have included the Roman Colosseum completed in 80 CE and The Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt that was built around 2570 BCE but they just missed the mark. The Colosseum was the largest stadium for almost 2000 years until the Yale Bowl was built in 1914 -- and since then, of course, a number of quite large stadiums have been constructed. The Great Pyramid of Giza was the tallest building in the world for 3800 years and the most massive structure built by humans for about 4500 years until the Grand Coulee Dam was constructed in the United States in 1942.
PREHISTORIC AND ANCIENT PEOPLES:
It is important to note that although there were not many technologies that were better than those of today, there were quite a few that were advanced for their time period. We now know, for example, that much of the raw silcrete used for arrows and spearheads crafted by Paleolithic 'cavemen' were carefully heat treated with an early pyrotechnology technique that greatly improved sharpness and stability. This technology began at least 25,000 years ago and perhaps as long as 60,000 years ago,
And this list could go on for hundreds of pages.
MY BASIC POINTS IN THIS BLOG POST ARE:#1. Homo Sapiens from the beginning were just as smart and sophisticated as we are today.
#2. They got the maximum power and benefit from their existing technologies using a variety of innovative and very smart methods and processes.
-- So if you agree with the above then, I believe, the next three ideas follow:
#3. There was much more to the stone-age cultures than we know but is perhaps lost because degradable materials such as wood, fabric, skins, and leather have not survived the ravages of time.
#4. Therefore we need to make a determined effort to unearth evidence of their societies using modern forensic tools while also assuming that they may have been much smarter than we believed in the past.
#5. It is possible that we could obtain clues from modern-day hunter-gatherers about what kinds of evidence we could find -- such as microscopic or chemical evidence. Stay tuned, this will be the subject of a future blog-post.
(Right) A recreation of a caveman based on the latest historical evidence.