Skip

Secrets of the ancients, revealed! ... or never bring a knife to a nanotube fight.
January 25, 2007 11:12 PM   Subscribe

It took a long time for many achievements of the ancient world to be duplicated. The first city to reach one million people was Baghdad in 775 CE (or possibly Rome nine hundred years before), a feat that would not be duplicated until London and Beijing grew in the 19th century. The largest building in the world was the Great Pyramid for forty centuries until the 19th, and the world's current longest canal is over two millenia old. Some mysteries still remain, such as the formula of Greek Fire, but it looks like a different ancient weapon's secret has been discovered, that of Damascus steel. The key ingredient -- nanotech!
posted by blahblahblah (29 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Watered steel-blade, the world perfection calls,
Drunk with the viper poison foes appals,
Cuts lively, burns the blood whene'er it falls
And picks up gems from pave of marble halls.
posted by gsteff at 11:20 PM on January 25, 2007


Will any of this stuff make my penis bigger, my IQ higher, or increase my penny stock portfolio?
posted by davy at 11:23 PM on January 25, 2007


well I learned that I can call AD CE which is pretty sweet, all though i dislike that a wiki search for it return Christian Era, which then redirects me to Common Era


posted by sourbrew at 11:31 PM on January 25, 2007


damn, that stripped my tags....


/puts on my wiki editor cap
posted by sourbrew at 11:34 PM on January 25, 2007


And my bet for Greek fire has always been phosphorus, boiled off from urine as Hennig Brand did 2000 years later.
posted by gsteff at 11:37 PM on January 25, 2007


er, boiled down from
posted by gsteff at 11:38 PM on January 25, 2007


Oh, one correction to my FPP for nitpickers - the buildings in the 19th century diagram were not the first to beat the Great Pyramid. That was, depending on who you ask, either one of the 19th century cathedrals of St. Nikolaikirche, Notre Dame, or Cologne, or else the popular favorite, the Eiffel Tower. Some claim that Strasborg Cathedral (circa 1620s) is higher, but they count the pyramid as having eroded, which seems like cheating.
posted by blahblahblah at 11:42 PM on January 25, 2007


I can recommend John Reader's, Cities, as a good introduction to the development of, err, cities.
posted by johnny novak at 12:49 AM on January 26, 2007


also a Wikipedia link to historical urban community sizes, and more on the first known city, Catal Hoyuk.
posted by johnny novak at 12:56 AM on January 26, 2007


That story about Damascan steel is pretty awesome.
posted by louigi at 1:19 AM on January 26, 2007


the buildings in the 19th century diagram were not the first to beat the Great Pyramid. That was, depending on who you ask, either one of the 19th century cathedrals of St. Nikolaikirche, Notre Dame, or Cologne, or else the popular favorite, the Eiffel Tower.

Or else Lincoln Cathedral circa 1300.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:55 AM on January 26, 2007


Angkor has +million inhabitants long before London/Beijing.
posted by the cuban at 3:24 AM on January 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Now you can own a faux Damascus steel blade yourself, and use it to chop your vegetables or flay your meat. A building trend in chef knives stems from Japan. These knives have a forged steel core clad in many layers of softer steel for a Damascus-type pattern without the nano-tech.
posted by cubby at 4:40 AM on January 26, 2007


Another nitpick: the Grand Canal is not "over two millenia old" in any meaningful sense. Yes, the first cut was made that long ago, but it was just a local canal. It didn't become Grand until the Sui dynasty in the early seventh century AD. (In fact, at that time it was approximately 2,500 kilometers long, considerably longer than it is now; see the Wikipedia article.)
posted by languagehat at 6:06 AM on January 26, 2007


and another one: a feat that would not be duplicated until London and Beijing grew in the 19th century

I disagree. Tenochtitlan is believed to have hold over a million people at the time Cortes arrived, in the 16th century, and it probably reached that figure 100 years before, at the time when the triple alliance was established with Texcoco and Tacuba.
posted by micayetoca at 6:11 AM on January 26, 2007


Lovely post, though, blahblahblah. I just nitpick for the sake of the exchange of useless information that we all are very fond of around here.
posted by micayetoca at 6:13 AM on January 26, 2007


Freakin' A! Medieval swords were made from carbon nanotubes! That blows my mind.

The canal is pretty cool too. Nice post.
posted by noble_rot at 6:28 AM on January 26, 2007


I would like more information about the Damascus Steel thing, there seems to be some controversy.
posted by empath at 6:47 AM on January 26, 2007


I would just like a Damascan steel sword. But the roommates say I'm not allowed to have a sword in the house. Just in case I ever convince them to the contrary, anyone have first-hand experience with these blades?
posted by bastionofsanity at 7:44 AM on January 26, 2007


You may or may not find the patterned blades hokey, cubby, but those Shun knives are among the best I've ever used and everyone I know who has one agrees.
posted by The Bellman at 8:37 AM on January 26, 2007


Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle is chock-full of this kind of stuff that the ancients and medievals did better than us. Plus it's a rip-roaring action-adventure yarn. Plus it's a long-form philosophical debate between two of the greatest minds in Christendom.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:49 AM on January 26, 2007


To answer the comments on the FPP. As far as I can tell, scholars don't generally believe that Angkor or Tenochtitlan had a million people, just as they don't believe that Rome had a population of a million, though it is commonly stated as a fact. The best authority is usually considered Tertius Chandler (great name!) and his estimates are provided in the Baghdad link above. Languagehat, as always, is right, I should have said the canal was started two millenia ago, it was completed over the following centuries. And, as for Lincoln Cathedral, sure the builders said it was bigger than the pyramids, but then it blew down in a hurricane, so nobody really knows for sure. Interestingly, most people (including NPR yesterday) say that the Eiffel Tower was the first building to top the pyramids - it must be more romantic that way.
posted by blahblahblah at 8:59 AM on January 26, 2007


As far as I can tell, scholars don't generally believe that Angkor...had a million people

Links?
posted by the cuban at 11:59 AM on January 26, 2007


the cuban - Links?

Well, as I stated above, Chandler (again, see the link for the word "Baghdad") doesn't consider Angkor as having hit a million (he estimates the population as 200,000 in 1000, though it reached its maximum a century or two later). But I have seen plenty of sites on the web say that Rome or Alexandria or Angkor reached one million people. I haven't found any definitive study on Angkor, just random claims and a few research projects that intend to look into the issue. But not every such assertion is right, see the link in the FPP about Rome. I guess I would ask you to provide some scholarly study that it reached one million.
posted by blahblahblah at 7:10 PM on January 26, 2007


A building trend in chef knives stems from Japan.

Interesting side anecdote: a friend who is into the art of knifemaking told me that apparently the market has pretty much died since September 11, as serious knives are worth serious money (thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars each), and their makers will not risk checking them in with their general luggage when flying. Even with the promise of locked metal boxes in cabin luggage, with the keys left with the airline staff, the airlines refuse to allow the knives into the cabin.

The result is that makers cannot bring their knives to international shows, largely killing their market.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:51 PM on January 26, 2007


the knife makers should just pack a rifle in the case with their knives.
posted by Iax at 8:16 PM on January 26, 2007


When you visit Angkor complex, the guides/guidebooks all estimate 1 million inhabitants at its peak.

This scholar estimates 750,000.

More than Chandler's 200,000 anyway.
posted by the cuban at 4:20 AM on January 27, 2007


the guides/guidebooks all estimate 1 million inhabitants at its peak.

You're not serious, right? You do realize guides will say anything that enhances the interest and importance of whatever they're showing people?

This scholar estimates 750,000.

Actually, he says "up to 750,000 people." We call that "miles of wiggle room" in the profession. And, again, it's for a National Geographic film: gotta impress the paying customers. I'd be more impressed if you could cite a serious, scholarly history of Cambodia that says something like that. At any rate, "up to 750,000" would seem to exclude a million, which is what you were claiming.
posted by languagehat at 6:35 AM on January 27, 2007


As always, you're 100% correct in your every utterance. If the guides/guidebooks at Angkor hadn't used the million figure, i wouldn't have been nearly as impressed. I feel such a fool now for being sucked into the Angkor hype machine.

Again you're 100% correct on the weasel words used by dubious source like NASA and a couple of American universities. I didnt see them until you gave me some insider tips from the 'profession'.

Lesson learned.
posted by the cuban at 4:08 AM on January 28, 2007


« Older I [Heart] Charts and Graphs   |   Wired: What We Don't Know Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post