Ancient Inventions
July 12, 2005 4:01 PM   Subscribe

The Virtual Museum of Ancient Inventions, most of the discoveries and inventions on which modern societies have been constructed were made in prehistoric times. Ancient inventions tell detailed stories of complex knowledge for which no written records exist.
posted by nickyskye (13 comments total)
This is pretty cool stuff, I like the keel breaker, ship shaker and some of the other maritime inventions, mostly to fend off pirates it seems.
posted by fenriq at 4:46 PM on July 12, 2005

i often wonder how different the world would be if the silicon chip hadn't been invented. (or even vacuum tubes) If inventors were forced to come up with new designs based more on physics than electronics. It would only take a handful of well-placed EMPs to knock out the world's computers, yes? I think of those mechanical "see n' say" toys with the pull string-powered mini-phonograph. "this is a duck. quak. quak." Those things will last forever. Long after electronic toys ooze out their battery acid.
posted by TechnoLustLuddite at 5:39 PM on July 12, 2005

I've read somewhere that we really don't know how the process of smithing bronze was developed. The procedure requires so many different steps and strict conditions that we literally cannot conceive of how it was discovered—it must, to our eyes, have happened all at once, by chance. Of course, part of it may be the modern view of invention and trial-and-error being heavily intermixed if not equivalent (see Edison and his famous incandescent bulb filament). It's likely that most of us just don't have the right mindset any more.

And then again, maybe we do.
posted by jenovus at 6:48 PM on July 12, 2005

Is there any greater proof of the existence of time travellers than these inventions?
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 7:17 PM on July 12, 2005

Is there any greater proof of the boundless nature of human imagination?

Great link.
posted by gwint at 7:40 PM on July 12, 2005

Lovely, nickyskye. Thank you so much. I'm very happy to have this in my bookmarks, as well as in my error-prone carbon-based storage device.
posted by vetiver at 8:22 PM on July 12, 2005

great post, nickyskye - thanks!
posted by madamjujujive at 9:00 PM on July 12, 2005

The battery is 2,000 years old? Who knew?! How the hell did someone figure out how to put vinegar and copper together to come up with an electrical charge? And imagine how magical a device like that must have seemed. The author China Mieville has done a neat job of speculation along these lines with his novel "Perdido Station," about a society that has developed a contemporary culture similar to our own - but without the existence of electricity.
posted by stacyhall1 at 10:11 PM on July 12, 2005

(this is awesome)
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:04 PM on July 12, 2005

Too bad they missed the 2000 year old Antikythera astronomical computer.
posted by Harry at 3:45 AM on July 13, 2005

The Baghdad Battery has its skeptics.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:41 AM on July 13, 2005

Please. The moon landing has its skeptics, that doesn't make them right.
posted by keswick at 7:39 AM on July 13, 2005

fenriq, so pleased you liked the link. I also love old maritime inventions, especially the sextant and come to think of it, these should be included in the Smith College History of Science collection. Think I'll email them with the suggestion.

Am I allowed to tell you here how much I enjoy your Fictionary? I don't know what the rules are about posting links within a thread and haven't been able to find any guidelines about this.

TechnoLustLuddite, what an interesting thought. By the way, I like your nic. stacyhall1 thanks for the book reference along those lines. Am in need of some good, entertaining reading these days.

Harry, wow, an ancient clockwork computer, amazing. Thanks for the education and cool links. It made me think of the term orrery, which is also a sort of an old, simplified astronomical computer of sorts from the early 1700's.

That's a good point jenovus, I do think the word invention implies it was cooked up in one go, rather than trial and error but I think inventions are probably largely due to many years of trial and error on the part of many people, especially the ancient inventions. What's interested me for quite some time is the occurence of things being invented in different countries at the same time without the knowledge of the inventors, like Tesla and Edison both working on similar electrical inventions at the same time in different countries. I've wondered whether there is some meme that gets out there and people cook up similar ideas? Certainly the web is an extraordinary catalyst and it seems things are being invented hourly all over the planet now.

gwint , "the boundless nature of human imagination" is one of my favorite thoughts to dwell on.

Pleased you like the link, CunningLinguist. By the way I think you live around the corner from me in Hell's Kitchen.

vetiver, fellow New Yorker who's profession is outdoors (boy we're having a rainy summer this year aren't we?), glad to contribute something to your error-prone carbon-based storage device, I got one of those too and it has a lot of bookmarks these days, lol.

By the way, vetiver is one of my fav smells. The Hindi word for it is "khus". The best quality khus essential oil comes from North India. It's a long root, which in India is often woven into mats/blinds, called chiks, placed across windows in the hot summer months, and wet with water. The breeze that comes through the mat smells marvelous and is refreshingly cooling.

Interesting point MrMoonPie and so is yours keswick.
posted by nickyskye at 10:09 AM on July 13, 2005

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