8 Ancient Inventions Still Unmatched By The Techiest of Tech
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Some inventions are so well conceived and so inspired, not only do they stand the test of time, they (like LeBron James in a Junior Varsity dunk contest) tower over the competition. When a piece of tech attains perfection, it becomes intertwined with the very fabric of our existence and we can’t imagine life without it. As a reminder in the age of Silicon Valley, where last year’s breakthroughs seem anachronistic, here are eight ancient inventions still holding it down today.
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How freaking much do we overlook the amazingness of the umbrella? Simple, elegant, and totally suited to its task, it makes rain look like a chump. Dating back over 4,000 years, umbrellas were originally conceived as a shade-maker.
Considered a feminine accessory, it wasn't until Persian travel writer Jonas Hanway started sporting one around London in the 18th Century that mustachioed dandies put down their cocktails and embraced the invention. Talk about a dry martini!
What the hell did people do before cutlery? Same thing they did before bidets and toilet paper (never mind). Ironically, the earliest known example of the fork comes from China. Two thousand years before Jesus was doing his thing, the Chinese were eating chicken salads with a three-pronged ditty made of bronze.
It took so long for the Western world to catch up, it wasn't until the wife of a Roman emperor casually whipped one out at banquet in 972 that Europeans started using them. After seeing his wife, Theophano Sklereina, nonchalantly change the world, Emperor Otto II was down to fork.
This liquid wonder built our cities and radically reshaped the world we live in. But Roman concrete, invented at the dawn of the Empire, outperforms modern day concrete in myriad ways.
Made from a blend of materials, most notably volcanic ash, concrete of the ancient world was more durable and eco-friendly than its modern day predecessor. Take the Colosseum, for example: it has already outlasted most of the ugly apartment buildings from the 1970s.
Pliny the Elder was only half sure, but two other accounts testify to the mysterious glass known to the ancient world as vitrum flexile. Legend has it that a master glassmaker presented his new invention to Emperor Tiberius who was so moved by it, he ordered the inventor beheaded immediately for fear that it would devalue all other materials. Though the secret of vitrium flexile was lost forever, Tiberius was able to enjoy his dinner.
Manipulating particles smaller than 100 nanometers has led to advancements in medicine, quantum physics, and digital technology. Though it wasn't until 1959 that the field was officially birthed, nanotechnology dates back 1,600 years to a Roman chalice known as the Lycurgus Cup.
Baffled as to how the cup would change color depending on how light passed through it, scientists in 1990 finally cracked the case. They discovered that ancient Romans had perfected the use of nanoparticles, having ground down silver and gold to particles less than one thousandth the diameter of a grain of salt. How Romans were able to wield such tiny objects without microscopes we do no know. We can barely read the back of a cereal box.
Before Alexander Fleming introduced penicillin to the world in 1928 (the first true antibiotic), ancient Egyptians were getting drunk on the stuff. Introduced by the Nubians (their party-loving neighbors to the south) Egyptians began lacing their beer with tetracycline, a modern day antibiotic, enjoying the healing benefits derived therein.
Today, thanks to overuse of antibiotics, scientists warn that a catastrophic superbug lurks just around the corner. But hey, at least we have probiotic beer.
Believe it or not, there was a time in history when people didn't have a concept for zero. Cheapskate diners had no way of leaving waiters without a tip. It was a trying time for all, until the Mesopotamians stumbled on the idea.
But since Twitter didn't exist back then, the Western world had no clue of the concept until more than 1,000 years later. In the meantime, virgins across Italy had to struggle counting how many people they had not slept with.
Part discovery, part ingenuity, this may be one of the best inventions of all time (unless you are allergic). Abundant in the pre-Olmec cultures of South America, dating as far back as 1,900 BCE, chocolate was served as a soupy intoxicant for more than 2,000 years. Then an Englishman named Joseph Fry decided to add sugar and shape it into a bar so he could keep that good sweet stuff in his pocket and eat it whenever the mood struck. The rest is history.