Science is galloping at a frenetic pace. We live in an age where a month-old technology is considered old, a year-old technology is ancient, and a technology just a couple of years old becomes obsolete. But does this mean the science and technology as was available in ancient world is something to laugh at? How can then we explain these?
1. Samara Sutradhara – Vimanas (Aircraft Technology)
The Samara Sutradhara is a scientific treatise dealing with every possible angle of air travel in a Vimana. There are 230 stanzas dealing with the construction, take-off, cruising for thousands of miles, normal and forced landings, and even possible collisions with birds.
In 1875, the Vaimanika Sastra, believed to be a fourth century B.C. text written by Bharadvajy the Wise, using even older texts as his source, was discovered in a temple in India.
It dealt with the operation of Vimanas and included information on the steering, precautions for long flights, protection of the airships from storms and lightening and how to switch the drive to “solar energy” from a free energy source which sounds like “anti-gravity.”
It is the best known book on Hindu astronomy. The text was later modified two or three times between 500 A.D. and 1500 A.D. The system laid down in the book can even now be used to predict eclipse within an error of two or three hours.
This book shows the advancement in the field of Astronomy in the early 500 A.D. era.
The ‘Antikythera mechanism’ was discovered in 1900 during the recovery of a shipwreck off of the Greek island, Antikythera, in waters 60 meters deep. It is a metallic device which consists of a complex combination of gears, and dates back to the 2nd century BCE. The Antikythera mechanism is one of the most amazing mechanical devices discovered from the ancient world. For decades, scientists have utilized the latest technology in attempts to decipher its functionality; however, due to its complexity, its true purpose and function remained elusive.
Peter Lynch, professor of meteorology at University College Dublin, explains: “The mechanism was driven by a handle that turned a linked system of more than 30 gear wheels.”
Amazingly, the device even included a dial to indicate which of the pan-Hellenic games would take place each year, with the Olympics occurring every fourth year.
4. A 1,600-year-old goblet shows that the Romans used nanotechnology.
The Lycurgus Cup, as it is known due to its depiction of a scene involving King Lycurgus of Thrace, is a 1,600-year-old jade green Roman chalice that changes colour depending on the direction of the light upon it. The mystery was solved in 1990, when researchers in England scrutinized broken fragments under a microscope and discovered that the Roman artisans were nanotechnology pioneers: they had impregnated the glass with particles of silver and gold, ground down until they were as small as 50 nanometres in diameter, less than one-thousandth the size of a grain of table salt.
The work was so precise that there is no way that the resulting effect was an accident. In fact, the exact mixture of the metals suggests that the Romans had perfected the use of nanoparticles. When hit with light, electrons belonging to the metal flecks vibrate in ways that alter the colour depending on the observer’s position.
5. The Baghdad Battery
The Baghdad Battery, sometimes referred to as the Parthian Battery, is a clay pot which encapsulates a copper cylinder. Suspended in the centre of this cylinder — but not touching it — is an iron rod. The battery is believed to be about 2000 years old, and was built during the Parthian period (250BC to 224 AD).
After the Second World War, Willard Gray, an American working at the General Electric High Voltage Laboratory in Pittsfield, built replicas and, filling them with an electrolyte, found that the devices could produce 2 volts of electricity.
The question remains, if it really was a battery, what was it used to power?
6. The incredible 2000-year-old earthquake detector
Although we still cannot accurately predict earthquakes, we have come a long way in detecting, recording, and measuring seismic shocks. Many don’t realise that this process began nearly 2000 years ago, with the invention of the first seismoscope in 132 AD by a Chinese astronomer, mathematician, engineer, and inventor called Zhang (‘Chang’) Heng.
The device was remarkably accurate in detecting earthquakes from afar, and did not rely on shaking or movement in the location where the device was situated. Eight dragons snaked face-down along the outside of the barrel, marking the primary compass directions. In each dragon’s mouth was a small bronze ball. Beneath the dragons sat eight bronze toads, with their broad mouths gaping to receive the balls. The sound of the ball striking one of the eight toads would alert observers to the earthquake and would give a rough indication of the earthquake’s direction of origin.
The seismoscope detected all of the earthquakes when this setup was tried on Vietnam and China during the earthquakes. As a matter of fact, the data gathered from the tests corresponded accurately with that gathered by modern-day seismometers!
7. 2000-year-old metal coatings superior to today’s standards
Research has shown that artisans and craftsmen 2,000 years ago used a form of ancient technology for applying thin films of metal to statues and other items, which was superior to today’s standards for producing DVDs, solar cells, electronic devices and other products. Fire gilding and silvering are age-old mercury-based processes used to coat the surface items such as jewels, statues and amulets with thin layers of gold or silver.
From a technological point of view, what the ancient gilders achieved 2000 years ago, was to make the metal coatings incredibly thin, adherent and uniform, which saved expensive metals and improved its durability, something which has never been achieved to the same standard today. Ancient craftsmen developed a variety of techniques, including using mercury like a glue to apply thin films of metals to objects.
8. The Indus Valley Civilization
Despite wars and several invasions, India’s ancient history was largely preserved. Long believed to date from about 500 B.C.; discoveries in the past century have pushed back the origins of Indian civilization thousands of years. In the Indus Valley, the cities of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro were discovered. The cities were so sophisticated and well-planned, that archaeologists believe they were conceived as a whole before construction on them begun. The Harappa culture also remains an enigma.
Its origins and deterioration is hidden, its dialect is unknown and the writing is completely indecipherable. At the site no differences in social class can be discerned and there are no temples or religious buildings. No other culture, including those of Egypt and Mesopotamia, has revealed the same degree of planning and development.
9. Massive drills and natural gas pipelines in ancient China
The Chinese invented a huge drill consisting of a length of bamboo with an iron bit at the end, which several men would use to excavate deep wells into the Earth. They may have looked comically unsafe, but by the 3rd century their salt wells reached as far down as 460 feet into the ground.
Their drilling methods weren’t just ingenious, they were also sophisticated. They designed a whole catalog of drill tips for different circumstances, and even had a protocol for repairing cave-ins underground from the safety of the surface.
They transported the gas through a far-reaching series of bamboo pipelines which would carry both the saltwater and the gas great distances, including under roads. Sure, we have natural gas pipelines in the modern world too. But we don’t have a tap that pours hot and cold running salt.
10. Viking compasses nearly as good as GPS.
Scientists were initially puzzled about how the Vikings were consistently able to travel in a totally straight line from Norway to Greenland and back, some 1,600 miles, while the rest of the world was rowing around in circles, too proud to ask the passing mermaids for directions. Then, in 1948, they found an ancient Viking artifact under an 11th-century convent and concluded it was a shockingly advanced compass.
Proceedings of the Royal Society
Before magnetic compasses, ancient mariners had to find their way using sundials, which told time and direction by shining a shadow onto a disc. As you can imagine, at night or even on a cloudy day, they were about as useful as reading tea leaves and sacrificing a goat to Odin. But the Viking compass, known as the Uunartoq disc, had ways of getting around that. On top of being an amazingly sophisticated sundial with several shadow sticks to work out the cardinal directions, medieval records of the device refer to a “magic” crystal that enabled it to work even when the sun wasn’t available.
Upon testing, scientists found less than 4 degrees of error, which is comparable to modern compasses. Even with these results, we still don’t know everything about the compass or if it was even more accurate, since half of it was missing when we uncovered it. In any case, we can confidently state the ancient Vikings at least had Apple Maps beat.
11. Ancient atomic technologies.
One possible item that would classify as “best evidence” exists within the Indus River Valley, where towns such as Harappa and Mohenjo Daro flourished in 3000 B.C. The question is why these cities were abandoned. And one answer that has been put forward is that the ancient cities might have been irradiated by an atomic blast.
If true, it would be impossible to ignore the conclusion that ancient civilization possessed high technology.
A layer of radioactive ash was found spread over a three-square mile area, ten miles west of Jodhpur in Rajasthan. The research was necessitated following an unusually very high rate of birth defects and cancer cases in the area.
The levels of radiation registered so high on investigators’ gauges that the Indian government cordoned off the region. Scientists then apparently unearthed an ancient city where they found evidence of an atomic blast dating back thousands of years: from 8,000 to 12,000 years.
The blast was said to have destroyed most of the buildings and probably a half-million people.
12. Hero’s Steam Engine
Hero was an inventor, scientist and engineer who lived in Alexandria and taught at the legendary library there in the first century CE.
He published several books of engineering principles and inventions. In Pneumatica, he described dozens of devices, including the aeolipile, or “Hero’s Engine“. A water-filled metal ball with opposing bent tubes would spin under the force of steam ejected under pressure when heated. His ideas using automated statues could be considered the earliest work in robotics.
13. String Theory
You can take any vedic text thousands of years old, or commentaries on vedic texts by scholars centuries old, or even those works at the beginning of the last century, and they all say that the entire universe is made up of vibrations, and the vedic hymn Om (0r aum) symbolizes this universal vibration. But all these days this vedic statement was said to be unscientific – claiming that there are no such vibrations in the universe, its only quantum particles everywhere, so on and so forth.
Very recently, in the past few decades, String theory was put forward by eminent scientists, and the very basis of this string theory which is trying to unify gravity and quantum mechanics is that, the entire universe finally is made up of vibrating entities titled strings – every single particle in this universe, even space, gravity, matter, light all are made up of vibrations of different frequencies – is what the String theory says.
14. Sushrutasamhita – Book on Medicine
Another book on medicine, compiled by Sushruta in the fourth century A.D was Sushrutasamhita. In this book Sushruta describes methods of operating contract, stone disease and several other ailments. He mentions as many as 121 implements to be used for operations. It was only from the time of Sushruta that surgery came to occupy an important place in Indian medicine.
15. Iron Pillar – a standing testimony to the advanced ancient Indian metallurgy.
The Iron Pillar is a column in the Qutub Complex of Delhi. It was built around A.D. 400 and enjoys thoroughly mocking archaeologists and metallurgists, because it’s 1,600 years old and it has not corroded yet. Compare that to your 1990 Maruti 800 and you might start to see what an accomplishment that truly is.
Studies of the Iron Pillar show that its composition is unusually high in phosphorous, which seems to have shielded the metal underneath from the ravages of nature. It basically nurtures a thin film of harmless rust that gets metallic Stockholm syndrome and fights off deeper, more damaging rust. That’s not an accident: earlier iron works are lacking that phosphorous, while several later structures were forged in the same fashion.
It is great that we are moving forward in science and technology at an hourly rate. But let us not reject outright ancient mechanisms just because they are from an age gone by.