Ancient Roman engineers were able to construct many different kinds of remarkable structures which have stood the test to time. In many places around the world we can still see and admire their incredible knowledge of engineering and technology. This shows us that the ancient Roman engineers had a superb understanding of how to build a vast range of buildings - plus their famous aqueducts - which we still marvel at today.
However, in order to understand the range of skills and technology available to the Roman engineers, it is necessary to recognize that they turned to the engineers who preceded them; to study their ingenuity and skills so that they could find ways to improve upon the skills and inventions of the past. To do so, just like engineers in today’s world, the ancient Romans had to find and develop more sophisticated means and see how they could discover new materials that would be required in what we call civil engineering today.
Roman engineer's bronze compass. (Mary Harrsch/ CC BY NC SA 2.0 )
With their new discoveries, they also had to come up with new techniques, which would completely change the way that buildings and bridges were made, and the vast range of equipment needed by the military and navies of the Roman Empire. Such engineering skills would see the birth of new machines, like developing water power as a means of energy. Such simple things that we take for advantage today, like plumbing and running water, would have been a huge advantage for the average Roman. How would people today survive without these things?
Through these changes, those ancient Roman engineers would see their work rewarded, as more prosperity and greater wealth came into play. Also, their engineering skills would directly improve the lives of all Roman citizens and show the nations trading with Rome that this knowledge gave them greater power.
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- Roman Weapons: Sharp Blades to Conquer the Ancient World
Roman Roads Helped Transport and Trade
One of the great improvements to ancient society was the building of roads which were well thought out and well built. The vast majority of roads were made with cut and dressed stones, but there were also concrete roads. Such civil engineering skills by the building of these roads also lead to greater commerce within the Roman Empire and allowed the merchants to reach ever further out and expand trade. In the time of ancient Rome those roads were considered so important that some 29 roads were made to lead to and from the eternal city.
An ancient Roman road. ( Alex /Adobe Stock)
Ancient Roman Engineers Created Awesome Aqueducts
We all know that if we are to survive it is essential that we all have access to water. Before the Romans built their own aqueducts these structures existed elsewhere in the East, for example the famous Aqua Appia was thought to be built around 310 BC. However, we can thank ancient Roman engineers for their new innovations, which enabled them to build larger constructions more quickly.
This required the employment of many different skilled craftspeople, from stone masons to carpenters and metal workers. They all came together to build aqueducts far from the cities where people lived. This also meant the skill of the engineer had to pan and execute for those craftsmen, as the aqueducts used the power of gravity, unlike today where we use pumps.
Aqueduct Pont du Gard - Provence France. ( Nikolai Sorokin /Adobe Stock)
But building such structures also meant the engineers had to draw up plans for their continual maintenance and keep them free from debris, which would otherwise accumulate and slow down the supply of clean and safe water. Between such large structures the ancient Roman engineers built a network so that water could be changed over to another system if the need arose.
The Colloseum is Standing Proof of Roman Engineering Ability
The Colloseum is one of the most amazing buildings of ancient Rome that still stands for us to marvel at today. Its main function was to provide entertainment, like other vast stadiums. It saw gladiator games, plays, and even mock battles between ships when the arena was flooded. This last event was another incredible feat of engineering in itself - to allow for water to both flow into the arena but also for its drainage system.
It was constructed of stone and it is thought to have easily accommodated some 50,000 spectators. The Colloseum is an incredible feat of masonry showing the structural engineers had a sound understanding of arches and the material strength and durability of the stonework. It is estimated to be about 620 feet (188.98 meters) in length and some 515 feet (156.97 meters) in width, with a height of nearly 158 feet (48.16 meters).
The Colloseum is one of the most famous examples of great Roman engineering. ( phant /Adobe Stock)
Although there are signs of decaying in some areas, this is not attributed to the skills of the ancient craftsmen. The deterioration of the Colloseum is due to time and not a representation of any bad workmanship or failings on the calculations of the ancient Roman engineers who built it.
Highly Versatile Concrete was a Major Advancement
The builders of ancient Rome made what must be one of the major discoveries with the invention of concrete. This discovery changed the world. By the 3rd century BC, they found that the addition of water to the dust from volcanoes, plus other ingredients such as small parts of bricks and stones, along with lime, created a change in the chemical structure which gave them the perfect mortar.
This was a revolution in concrete. They also discovered this worked well for the Roman builders working with water and even underwater constructions, like at the quay sides at harbors and the cities which were built along sea fronts. Another use for Roman concrete was to waterproof all the cisterns, known as Pozzolana.
By the time of the 2nd century BC, the Roman engineers and builders had mastered the art of building large and magnificent stone bridges; for example the Pons Aemilius in the city of Rome. At first, the large stones were held together by a series of iron clamps inserted into the stones, but the discovery of concrete changed the way they could build such large structures.
The Pons Aemilius. ( duke2015 /Adobe Stock)
Now they could build the bases from super strong concrete and use stones for the facings. The Roman engineers were among the first to fully understand that when it came to arches while building bridges they could use different shapes of stones; these were called Voussoirs. This created strong arches which would distribute the weight efficiently. Such arches can still be found in Europe today, demonstrating the incredible skill of those builders and engineers as well as the strength of the materials to create something that could endure centuries of weather.
The continued expansion of the Roman Empire would require the builders and ancient engineers to construct a vast array of buildings, structures, and roads from materials that were both strong and also durable. As we see in today’s civil engineers and construction companies, the ancient Romans must have also understood the science and studied how different materials work.
These ancient Roman builders and engineers were more than impressive in how they managed both durability and strength to create their structures which we can still marvel at today. Also their discovery of concrete enabled them to build not only large buildings and arches but also very large domes.
Roman aqueduct by Robbie Peterson (Author supplied)
This allowed them to create much more space within the interior of the structures. We can find examples of this work in buildings such as temples, atriums, and amphitheaters. There are a number of large Roman stone bridges still standing today - one magnificent example was built to honor the Roman Emperor Trajan.
This was built with segmented arches joined up together, and the builders used both stone and concrete in their construction. It crossed the river Danube and was some 3725 feet (1135.38 meters) in length, nearly 50 feet (15.24 meters) in width, stood some 60 feet (18.29 meters) above the water, and two castra (military camps) were constructed at each end. This impressive feat of engineering began around 105 AD, when the Roman army was fighting the war in Dacia, so Trajan required this bridge to supply and maintain his war effort.
Tunnels Prove Ancient Geometry and Surveying Skills
The creation of tunnels were one of many engineering projects that the Romans had to devise in order for the supply of water to reach the aqueducts. It was a considerable feat of engineering and construction that saw the Romans tunneling through hills and, if needed, even mountains. The method was similar to the system they used to build lines for straight roads: they laid out a number of posts at given intervals and this gave them straight lines. Even more remarkable, while tunneling they also constructed vertical shafts which brought fresh air to those actually doing the physical labor.
The Romans had investigated how the Persians had bult their tunnels. By understanding their work, the Roman engineers could ensure the vertical shafts were always in line with the tunnels. Just as in many operations today, when faced with tunneling through a mountainside, the Roman builders used a method called counter-excavation, which sets teams of construction workers digging towards each other from the opposite sides of the hill or mountain. In order for the Roman engineers and builders to accomplish such projects they had to have a detailed knowledge of geometry and surveying.
Major Roman tunnel on Mount Salviano. (Claudio Parente/ CC BY SA 4.0 )
To deal with the hard rock that was encountered while tunneling, one of the techniques used was applying heat (fire) to the rock surfaces, followed by a rapid quenching of the fire with cold water - this caused the rocks to crack. This work was done by Roman workers and slaves and could take a very long time. An example of tunneling is when the Emperor Claudius drained Lake Fucine in 41 AD. It is estimated to have taken some thousands of workers and builders nearly 12 years to complete.
Roman Weapons Made Conquering Foes Easier
Over the centuries, the ancient Romans were able to build up a very formidable range of weapons through the knowledge of its engineers and craftsmen. By such skills, the working knowledge of different kinds of materials, and their knowledge of metallurgy, the Roman army and its naval counterparts could call upon some of the best weapons available at that time in history. Having access to this range of weapons allowed the Roman legions and the imperial fleets to not only conquer their foes but also to expand the Roman Empire.
One example of a weapon which is an amazing feat of technology is the “ Ballista.” Originally used by the Greeks, the Roman engineers greatly improved its function and versatility by making alterations to a number of the metal components. This not only increased its range but also made it lighter and much more manageable for the legionary gun teams. There were a number of differing models of this weapon and the larger models had a firing range of some 1476 feet (450 meters).
Another awesome weapon in the legions’ armory was the Onager. This could launch heavier objects or projectiles than its smaller cousin the Ballista. It was simpler in construction and therefore easier for the crews to operate this weapon. It has been calculated from its swing that the arm could launch a stone of some 55 lbs. (25 kg) that would damage and smash down enemy fortifications. Because it was a large and heavy weapon, it would be assembled on the battlefield by the Roman engineers.
‘The Catapult’ (1868) by Edward Poynter.
We must remember that the Roman Empire was also built upon its naval powers and the maritime shipbuilders – which led to the two main bases at Misene and at Ravennate. We can still see this maritime technology by visiting the Ancient Roman Naval Museum by Lake Diana near Rome.
7 Ancient Inventions That Were Way Ahead of Their Time
These ancient inventions have baffled scientists for years.
There are archaeological discoveries out there that have left scientists dumbfounded, inventions that occasionally paint a very different picture of our ancient world. Ancient inventions can be groundbreaking, giving us more insight into past cultures, people, and technology. Sporadically, researchers do find inventions that seem to be way ahead of their time, with a few of them almost impossible to recreate even with our modern technology.
Earthquakes have long been a source of mystery for scientists, predicting them has proven to be a challenge and detecting them has been a process that scientists have been exploring for nearly 2,000 years. The first known evidence of a device used to detect earthquakes comes from Zhang Heng.
What was remarkable about Zhang Heng&rsquos device was that it was able to detect earthquakes from long distances and was able to indicate which direction the earthquake was. The device was able to detect earthquakes even if there was no shaking in the area where it was located. This is certainly a marvel of engineering and the distances that earthquakes could be detected continues to amaze scientists to this day.
The ancient seismoscope consisted of a large bronze vessel that was six feet in diameter. Eight dragons were featured around the outside of the vessel and marked the main directions of the compass. In the mouth of each dragon was a small ball that was held in place solely by the clamped jaws of the dragon. Beneath each dragon were eight toads with their mouths open toward the dragon. When an earthquake happened one dragon would drop the ball into the mouth of the toad to indicate the direction of the earthquake. In 138 AD, the device indicated an earthquake west of Luoyang, the capital city, but no one had sensed an earthquake there. However, a few days later, a messenger from the western Long region brought news of an earthquake. This sufficiently proved the device to the people of the era.
There is still no real understanding of how the device worked. Some believed that there was a thin set loosely set in the barrel and then the force of the earthquake would cause the stick to topple in the direction of the seismic activity. In 2005, scientists recreated the device using this theory and found that it worked as well as modern seismometers in a series of tests.
10 Incredible Ancient Technologies that were Way Ahead of their Time
We are yet to uncover so many things of the past. The ancient times were further ahead than we presume them to be. On example is the technology that existed then. They have been many discoveries that determine that the ancient Greeks, Romans, and other civilizations had devised numerous technologies to accomplish day-to-day work. From refrigerators for keeping ice cool in the hot desert to cups that could change color, we bring to you 10 incredible ancient technologies that will just blow your mind.
1. By 400 BC, Persian engineers had mastered the technique of storing ice during summers in the desert.
Yakhchal or icehouse (exterior), Meybod, Iran. Image Credit: Ggia via Wikipedia
During the winters, the Persian people used to bring ice from nearby mountains and store them in pits they created in the middle of the desert. The ice pits, known as “yakhchal,” were one of the most ancient refrigerators known to mankind. They were also used to keep food cool and healthy during the intense summers.
On first glance, the structure looks like a large dome made from mud brick. Some of the structures were as tall as 60 feet. Below the dome lies a large underground space with excess storage area. The underground space was as large as 5,00 cubic meters.
The underground space was connected to a “qanat,” or wind catch. The wind catch consisted of multiple windcatchers that had the ability to bring down the temperature to frigid levels during the summers.
Yakhchal of Yazd province/ Icehouse (interior), Meybod, Iran. Image Credit: Pastaitaken via Wikipedia, Ggia via Wikipedia
The wall of the dome used to be as thick as two meters. Moreover, it was made by a special mortar that was comprised of sand, clay, egg whites, lime, goat hair, and ash in specific proportions. The walls were resistant to heat transfer, thus keeping the insides cool. Also, they were impenetrable to water which helped to keep the ice and food safe.
But what if somehow the ice melted a little bit? For such unforeseen circumstances, a trench was provided at the bottom so that the melted water could be caught and frozen again during the chilly desert nights. The entire structure was really well-thought despite being from an ancient era. (1, 2)
2. The “Archimedes screw” is a hand-operated machine that can move water up using gravity. If reversed, it can generate energy by water moving down.
Archimedes Screw. Image Credit: Amanjosan2008 via Wikipedia
The Archimedes screw was predominantly used for irrigation purposes in the ancient times. The machine was a screw inside a hollow pipe. The screw was initially operated by hand but later, wind energy was utilized.
The technology exists to this day and is operated with the help of a motor. As the shaft starts to turn, the bottom end of the device scoops up water. this water is then pushed to the top of the screw via the rotating helcoid until it comes out from the top end. (source)
3. There is an ancient masonry technology in Mexico that allows bricklayers to build vaults and roof-type domes using only their trowel, without formworks or ceiling mounts.
Tequisquiapan is a town located in the state of Querétaro Arteaga, one of the 32 federal entities of Mexico. The town is home to a generation of masons known as “bovederos.” These masons seem to have a superpower as they can build vaults and roofs of domes with just their trowel! For those who do not know what a trowel is, it is a small hand tool that is mostly used for digging or when applying concrete to bricks.
So, these masons from Mexico do not need the aid of any support and build domes with just their trowels! The video above shows this gravity-defying act in action. These masons do not require any formworks or ceiling mounts. It is said that the technology has been passed on from parents to children from generation to generation. This is one of the ancient technologies that still exists today. (source)
4. The ancient Egyptians invented the ramp to aid construction processes.
Ancient Egyptian ramp. Image Credit: Nano Science
The Egyptians are well known for their massive architectural structures such as pyramids. They normally make their structures quite tall and uniquely shaped. Such massive structures call for the use of ramps during construction. Ancient Egyptians have been known to invent ramps to be used to carry materials during construction.
A ramp is just an inclined plane against a horizontal surface that enables people to overcome resistance. By applying a small force for a longer distance, the load can be carried to a height rather than applying intense force to lift or raise it vertically. The Egyptians were surely ahead in their time when it came to construction. (source)
5. The “Antikythera mechanism” is a 2,000-year-old computer developed by the Greeks. It was used to predict the position of the planets and stars in the sky depending on the calendar month.
Antikythera mechanism. Image Credit: Flickr
One hundred sixteen years ago, divers found came across a shipwreck off the coast of a Greek island. They inspected the site and discovered an odd-looking bronze item. Little did they know that this small discovery would change our understanding of human history.
The structure had a series of gears made of brass and dials mounted on something that looked like a mantel clock. The structure had at least two dozen gears laid on top of one another with perfect calibration. Archaeologists came to the conclusion that this must be some kind of analog clock of the past or a calculating device. A debate went on for years until Princeton science historian Derek J. de Solla Price provided a detailed analysis of the device in 1959.
His study revealed that the device was used to predict the location of the planets and stars taking into account the calendar month. According to Price’s analysis, the main gear would move to represent the calendar year, in turn, would move the separate smaller gears that represent the motions of the planets, Sun, and Moon. In short, when the main gear is set to the current date, the device would point out the location of the celestial bodies in the sky!
In Price’s words, “The mechanism is like a great astronomical clock … or like a modern analog computer which uses mechanical parts to save tedious calculation.” The logic behind calling it an analog computer is that similar to a computer, the user can provide an input and get the desired output based on some calculations. (source)
10 Ancient Inventions That Were Way Ahead of Their Time
Our ancestors had no smartphones or GPS to guide them through their journeys. Without the help of modern contraptions, they still managed to get around and survive. While they were limited in many ways, there were many prolific men and women who thought outside of the box and invented things that were way ahead of their time. Archaeologists studying lost and ancient civilizations have stumbled upon numerous items that made them question how it was possible. Here’s a collection of such things and inventions that were simply ahead of their time.
1. The Lycurgus Cup is a fascinating artifact that reveals knowledge of nanotechnology during prehistoric times.
The Lycurgus Cup is the only surviving complete example made from dichroic glass. One of the most amazing features of this cup is its ability to chance color when introduced to light. When subjected to light, the cup changes its color from opaque green to a glowing translucent red. Although the 1,600-year-old Roman chalice was acquired by the British Museum during the 1950’s, it wasn’t until the late 1900’s that scientists recognized its full potential.
Scientists studied broken pieces of the cups and found that the glasses comprised of ground up particles of gold and silver. They were mixed in such a way that the width of the cup was no more than 50 nanometers in diameter. Researchers and archaeologists both agree that the Romans knew exactly what they were doing. When light hits the cup, the electrons in the metal parts vibrated and depending on the observer’s position, the color of the cup changed. Depending on the light source and the type of fluid in the cup, the electrons behaved differently resulting in different colors.
2. Legendary Viking crystal sunstones helped them navigate through the seas.
The Norse sagas mention a mysterious “sunstone” that helped the sailors navigate in the absence of the sun. It was long disputed that the existence of these stones were just myths since the so-called “sunstones” were never discovered at Viking archaeological sites. They can no longer be considered a myth since a special crystal was recently uncovered from a wreck. The 1592 sunken Elizabethan shipwreck near the Channel Islands, between England and France, was found to house a stone among other navigational tools.
A chemical analysis of the stone found it to be Icelandic Spar, or calcite crystal, believed to be the Vikings’ mineral of choice. The discovery, while highly significant, comes with a price. Due to the stone being deposited in the sea bed for centuries and its introduction to magnesium salts, it cannot be used for navigational purposes today. ( source )
3. Yakhchāl, an ancient Persian cooler (ice pit) built to store ice.
Ancient people were more clever than most people assume them to be. 2,400-Year-Old Yakhchāls are examples of their ingenuity with the limited resources available during the period. In ancient Persia, Yakhchāl (meaning ice pit) was a type of ancient refrigerator that was built in the middle of the desert. It did not require electricity, coolants or elements, which are required by most refrigerators today.
Believe to be built by Persian engineers around 400 B.C., Yakhchāls were simple making it affordable to the poor. The domed structures were made using clay, sand, ash and lime. There was also a hole dug on the surface of the dome, deep enough to keep the contents cooler than the surface temperature. The dome acted as an insulator, blocking the sun’s rays and heat. Water or ice was brought from nearby mountains and placed inside the structure so that the people of the town could use the contents for an extended period of time.
4. Hero’s steam engine, which was a water-filled metal ball with opposing bent tubes. It would spin under the force of steam ejected under pressure when heated.
Hero, also called Heron, was an inventor, scientist and engineer who lived in Alexandria. Heron was also known to teach science as well as publish several books. In one of his books, he described a device known as aeolipile, or “Hero’s Engine”. The aeolipile was basically a metal ball with opposing tubes that were slightly bent at the end. When heated, the metal ball would spin under the pressure of the steam being ejected. While the invention seems like it has no principle, scientists believe the technology was utilized to raise and lower curtains during the time. His ideas and the utilization of mechanical power is considered to be the earliest work in robotics.
5. Archimedes screw, a machine or a pump that is used for raising water up.
When Archimedes was in Alexandria, Egypt, he wrote about a contraption that could be used to lift water. Although it’s uncertain whether he himself invented it, historians attribute Archimedes for the machine. The Archimedes screw was simply a machine with a screw inside a fairly tight-fitting cylinder. The bottom end is dipped in water and the screw is spun manually by hand. As the screw spins, the water is scooped up all the way to the top where it is routed towards irrigation fields.
The device was first used in fields to supply water during ancient times but was later used for dewatering mines or other low-lying areas. Later on, it was powered by wind turbines. Today, the technology is still widely used around the world. For example, the auger in a snow blower or grain elevator is essentially an Archimedes screw.
6. The Hypogeum of Hal-Saflieni in Malta has remarkable acoustic properties thousands of years before surround sound system was invented.
The underground cave system covering around 500m² on 3 levels was built between 3000-2500BC but was only discovered in 1902. Scientists have been studying the rooms and its extraordinary ability to manipulate sounds within the chambers. One of the rooms named the “Oracle Chamber” is of particular interest to scientists. The room with its ceilings intact is said to amplify voices dramatically, with certain frequencies resonating enough to be felt through the body. While the reason for creating such a structure is unknown, the knowledge of acoustics during ancient times puzzles scientists to this day.
7. The world’s first vending machine was invented in the first century C.E. by Heron of Alexandria to prevent temple denizens from taking more holy water than they had paid for.
It might be hard to believe that a device such as a vending machine could be invented thousands of years ago before all the technological advances. In fact, it is true and the first vending machine was invented for a rather unusual reason. Heron is credited with 80 amazing inventions and one being the holy water dispensing machine. He did not create the machine out of curiosity but rather as an effort to deter thieves.
Patrons of temples often had the habit of taking more holy water than they paid for. So, in order to combat this, Heron invented a machine that dispensed holy water blessed by the temples officials when coins were deposited. According to Gizmodo: “While the coin applied pressure on the lever, the holy water pours forth from an opened spout. Once the coin falls away, however, a counterweight is released by the movement of the lever and the water spout closes.” The simple design worked and limited people from taking any more than their fair share.
8. Romans found ingenious methods to mix concrete, making their 2,000 year old buildings more durable and eco-friendly than the buildings of today.
Today, concrete is made using water, aggregate (rock, sand, or gravel) and Portland cement. In fact, the world is developing so fast that more than 10 billion tons of concrete is produced every year to keep up with the demand. Romans also used concrete to build structures but their’s have been standing for thousands of years while structures built today start to decay within a few decades. How did the Romans achieve something that is not available today?
In order to learn and better understand the mixing composition, scientists mapped the crystalline structure. The study found that Romans created concrete using volcanic ash, lime and seawater. They also mixed volcanic rock as aggregate, causing a reaction and solidifying the material.
9. The Egyptian pyramids, some of the most incredible structures in the world, were in fact built using ramps which were later dismantled.
Image: Eric Kilby/Flickr
There are many theories as to how the pyramids in Egypt were built, with several claiming the involvement of UFO’s and fancy contraptions. Until now, there have only been theories and speculations about the masterpieces and their creation. French architect Jean-Pierre Houdin studied the pyramids and found compelling evidence that ramps were in fact used in the creation of the pyramids.
Initially, the base of the pyramids were constructed using a ramp. Then, the men and women used winding, spiral ramps on the inside walls of the pyramids to carry stones. As they climbed higher, they kept extending the ramp towards the top end. According to Houdin, who also made a 3D rendering of his find, the ramps still exist within the pyramids.
10. Hypocaust, which was basically a central heating system pioneered by the Greeks.
Today, most homes are centrally air conditioned or heated. Ancient Greeks did not have central heat as we do today but they did find a way to keep their homes warm. Known as hypocaust (which means “under burnt”), the method was used throughout ancient Rome in hot baths and public buildings. It was also found in the homes of the wealthy because of the expense that came with maintaining the system.
The hypocaust was created by making a structure under the floor of the building. During the construction, the floor of the house was raised up on pillars called pilae stacks. On top of the pillars was a layer of tile, which was then covered with a layer of concrete. Outside the house, laborers would light the furnace, which would send hot air into the space between the ground and floor of the building.
The hot air then heated the tiles, which in turn heated the concrete. Apart from that, the hot air was also routed through the walls, so it could be used to heat multiple floors of a building. The system, while simple, was only affordable by the rich since it needed someone at all times to maintain the right amount of heat for best comfort.
These Bitcoin tweets were way ahead of their time
Bitcoin came to life in 2009. More than a decade later, the present day looks back on an enormous amount of development that has built a surrounding industry, complete with other blockchains, assets and solutions. Some folks knew about Bitcoin (BTC) in its early years, while others have jumped on the train in varying droves since then. Looking back through Twitter’s history reveals a few tweets that were far ahead of their time.
In 2010, one Twitter user saw Bitcoin’s potential, yet expressed skepticism regarding its future. Little did they know how common the term Bitcoin would become, surfacing as the topic of numerous mainstream news interviews and reporting.
Just learned about bitcoin.org. Probably won’t leave the realm of geeks, but it has some really neat ideas about electronic currency systems
— Jacob Farkas (@farktronix) November 16, 2010
Someone else on Twitter thought they were behind the game, back in 2010! The tweet shows a post date of Dec. 1, 2010. Bitcoin’s daily price candle for that day reached a price high of around .23 per BTC, according to TradingView’s BraveNewCoin BTC Liquid Index. For reference, Bitcoin reached levels above $60,000 per coin in April 2021.
I might be a bit late to the party but bitcoin is definitely the 2nd most interesting thing I have found in a while. http://www.bitcoin.org/
— Ivor Paul (@Apie) December 1, 2010
Another Twitter user cashed in their Christmas present haul in 2011 for the digital asset. If they held BTC until 2021, their decision likely paid notable percentage returns, based on price action since.
Alright! Time to trade my xmas gift cards on IRC for bitcoins. #bitcoin-otc Nearly the entire extended family is intrigued
— Andrew Miller (@socrates1024) December 30, 2011
Lastly for this batch of history is a 2009 Twitter post from the now-deceased Hal Finney, who was involved in Bitcoin from the beginning. This retro tweet came on Jan. 21, 2009, shortly after Bitcoin’s Genesis block launched on Jan. 3, 2009. Since then, some assets, such as Monero (XMR), have come into existence, touting greater privacy.
Looking at ways to add more anonymity to bitcoin
— halfin (@halfin) January 21, 2009
The western world’s grandfather of higher learning, Plato helped lay the very foundations of philosophy, science and mathematics in the west. Since his passing 2,400 years ago, Plato has enduringly remained one of the most important names in modern philosophy, demonstrating his far-reaching foresight.
With this in mind, it is hardly surprising that Plato is credited with detailing more than 70 inventions harnessing steam power during his life. With steam power sparking the British industrial revolution almost 2,000 years after Plato’s death, the ancient Greek philosopher was way, way ahead of his time.
Leonardo da Vinci
One of history’s few agreed-upon polymaths (a person whose expertise spans a large number of different subject areas), Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions are amongst his most famous works. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with his Mona Lisa and The Last Supper artworks, da Vinci is credited with inventing flying machines, parachutes and even the tank.
Many of his inventions and conceptual plans never saw the light of day with technology unable to keep up with a man considered to have been perhaps the most diversely talented individual to have ever lived. And sometimes, his concepts were put on hold as he engaged in one of his other specialties: painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, botany, history, cartography and writing.
Hero of Alexandria
Just a couple of hundred years after Plato walked the Earth, Hero of Alexandria started putting a few of his concepts into practice – creating, amongst others, the steam engine. The Aeolipile was a steam-powered jet engine which spun when heated – sadly his invention never went into mass-production.
Amongst his other inventions were the world’s first ever vending machine. In exchange for a coin, his patrons could buy themselves a handful of holy water – a precursor to the machines flogging us cans of Dr Pepper and £2 bags of McCoys to this day.
Many of the inventors way ahead of their time came up with ideas and concepts without practical use at the time the inventions were committed to paper. Not Zhang Heng however, the Chinese inventor created an effective earthquake detector in the year 132AD.
The earthquake detector built by mathematician/scientist/inventor, Zhang Heng, was capable of identifying seismic activity hundreds of miles away and could be used to determine exactly where the earthquake actually came from.
This was whilst most of the Chinese were trying to journey to Tibet, having heard the nation’s waters offered immortality and power over the weather to whomever takes a sip. So Zhang Heng was definitely operating at a higher level than his peers.
Listening to music through headphones in the 1970s most commonly necessitated hooking yourself up to massive, heavy stereos in the living room or the local library. Portable cassette players only entered the American and European markets in the 80s, so enjoying Zeppelin and Pink Floyd on the go was something of a pipe dream.
Enter Kane Kramer, a British furniture salesman who invented the personal digital music player – a pocket-sized electronic device capable of holding up to a half an hour of stereo. Sadly, Kramer could not continue to fund the patent costs and retain the rights to the technology. His impact was massive though, with Apple pioneering their MP3 players a couple of decades later, and even crediting Kramer for his contribution.
Whilst 1886 is widely regarded as the birth year of the automobile when German inventor Karl Benz built the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, the first powered car was devised more than a century earlier. In 1769, military engineer, Nicholas-Joseph Cugnot built the steam cart, a large-scale tricycle capable of transporting heavy pieces of artillery.
Although the steam cart was eventually dropped by the French military due to some outstanding flaws (it struggled to top two miles/hour and could only operate on level ground), Cugnot’s automobile was the first to move on its own power. The inventor was rewarded for his work with King Louis XV granting Cugnot a pension of 600 livres a year.
More than 100 years before the first computer was built, English mathematician, Charles Babbage, designed the programmable general-purpose computer in 1837. Known as the analytical engine, the computer was complete with arithmetical unit, control flow loops and memory.
Although Babbage ran out of money and could not complete his computer, his designs and concepts were tested in 1991 and the results indicated the analytical engine would have been successful. The incomplete mechanisms of Babbage’s machine can be found today in the London Science Museum.
1930s Hollywood A-lister, Hedy Lamarr, was not your traditional silver screen starlet. As well as appearing in a number of hugely popular blockbusters during the golden age of cinema, Lamarr also developed a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes as World War II broke out. With the help of composer, George Antheil, this unlikely duo used spread spectrum and frequency hopping technology to defeat the threat of radio jams caused by opposing forces.
The technology pioneered by Lamarr has gone on to form the foundation of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, hugely influential in modern life. Hedy Lamarr is most certainly the only person in history to be inducted in the National Inventors Hall of Fame and also inspire Catwoman.
The history of the typewriter is surprisingly contentious, with a number of machines and inventions claiming the title of the world’s first. However, the earliest documented device of such type was the scrittura tattile, created by Italian printmaker Francesco Rampazzetto in 1575. Even 300 years after Rampazzetto’s invention, print houses were still creating typewriter prototypes.
It wasn’t until 1910 that the typewriter reached a standardised design, finally completing the good work started by Rampazzetto in the 16 th century.
Although primarily recognised as a philosopher, Rene Descartes did like to dabble in the physical sciences as well from time to time. Having taken inspiration from Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex of the eye, Manual D in 1508 Descartes proposed a seeing aid made up of a glass tube filled with liquid placed directly on the cornea.
The protruding end of the contact lens was then shaped to correct a person’s sight, granting them 20:20 vision. Sadly, Descartes’ lenses also made it impossible to blink, so they never really took off. But this idea was not too dissimilar from Adolf Fick’s contact lens, the first version of the invention to successfully fit in a person’s eye – created more than 250 years after Descartes’ attempt.
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4. No Incest
The Law: “If a man be guilty of incest with his daughter, he shall be driven from the place (exiled).”
Courtesy Of: The Hammurabi Code
There is a ton of incest in the Bible, which came way after Hammurabi. There are a few lines in Leviticus that condemn incest, but throughout the text it is not only prevalent, but isn’t shown to be a big deal. Incest was even fairly common in the early United States, although it is now illegal in all states and Washington D.C. The code of Hammurabi recognized that incest was wrong way before anyone else even thought about it.
Interview with Abraham Verghese
Abraham Verghese's moving and richly detailed epic novel "Cutting for Stone," published last year, tells of the lives of Ethiopian twins whose fates remain forever intertwined - despite the diverging journeys the two men, both surgeons, take.
Verghese's first novel - after the memoirs "My Own Country" (1994) and "The Tennis Partner" (1998) - was recently published in paperback (Vintage 667 pages $15.95), and the much-acclaimed book is back on best-seller lists. And so the physician and author who grew up in Ethiopia, then lived in New Jersey, India, Tennessee, Boston and Texas - and is now a professor of medicine at Stanford - finds himself journeying once again, crisscrossing the country on a book tour and venturing to Europe to mark the publication of his novel in foreign languages.
We caught up with Verghese by e-mail as he traveled from Boston to Spain.
Q:As a man of medicine, weren't you aware of the harm that reading a 600-page novel can cause to one's wrists?
A: I was more worried about my own wrists, lugging around thrice that many pages in double-spaced manuscript form! But I confess to a love of big books, the kind you don't want to end.
Q:Without giving away too much, the heart of your novel's conclusion is centered on the liver. Your surprisingly moving descriptions of that organ's functions brought to mind the Romans' belief that the liver is the seat of love and passion. Were the Romans on to something?
A: The Romans were way ahead of their time - it is an incredible organ, a veritable factory but one that produces not just one kind of widget, but everything from clotting factors to crucial proteins, and if that were not enough, it also processes the drugs and alcohol we consume, produces bile for digestion - and even that is a very short list of all it does. Like the heart, it is an unpaired organ (unlike lungs and kidney, say), but unlike the heart, surgical techniques can now divide it so you can give part of your liver to save your child's life, for example. I have been intrigued with the liver both because it is the Renaissance man or woman of all the organs and because surgical techniques have had to be at their peak to deal with transplanting it.
Q:Is it true that you've been approached at book readings by people who confuse you with a certain other doctor and writer of Indian extraction?
A: People have said to me, "Dr. Gawande, I love your writing." I have debated whether to simply gracefully accept the praise on Atul's behalf, but I usually counter that I am better looking and have more hair than Atul. (Not.) The problem is compounded by the fact that we are both on the best-seller lists together the last few weeks. I sent him a photo from Chicago showing our two books nestling together on a display of best-sellers. Very proud of what he does.
Q:You're on the road a lot these days. Are you reading anything you'd recommend?
A: I am reading voraciously. Finished "Wolf Hall" (Hilary Mantel) and "Let the Great World Spin" (Colum McCann), and now as I head off to Spain, Italy and France for two days each for the release of the translations of my book, I have packed Cervantes, Eco and, of course, my great favorite, Zola. A goal I had with my book was to write of medicine the way Zola wrote of Paris, so that every page should be steeped in medicine directly or indirectly.
Q:There's a fair amount about Ethiopian food and drink in your novel. For those who can't travel to Addis Ababa for the weekend, what Ethiopian restaurants would you recommend in the Bay Area?
A: There are a ton of superb restaurants all over the Bay Area, and if I mention one as being super, I hope the others will forgive me or better still invite me for a free meal so that I can increase my sample size. But Zeni's in San Jose is the best I have had ever, I must say, and Muna and his wife Zeni are great ambassadors for Ethiopia.
Q:You've been blogging for TheAtlantic.com about the sorry state of health care in this country. Is there anything we can learn from Ethiopia?
A: I think we learn from medicine everywhere that it is at its heart a human endeavor, requiring good science but also a limitless curiosity and interest in your fellow human being, and that the physician-patient relationship is key all else follows from it. I think we can see how blessed we are in America to have access to the kind of health care we do if we are insured, and even if uninsured, how there is a safety net. Now, as to the problem of how much health care costs and how we reform health care . it is another story altogether.
Q:"Cutting for Stone" is cinematic in so many ways, from its varied settings to its rich array of characters. Are there any plans for a movie adaptation?
A: Lots of talk, but as far as I know, no one has signed on the dotted line.
Q:In the free time left over from teaching, touring with your book, blogging, writing op-eds and reviews and being a father, are you working on a new 600-page novel?
A: A new novel is the one thing I have not started. But I think the seeds of a story have just been sown, and I am fertilizing and nurturing and looking to spring and summer for the first sign of a bud.
1 DMC DeLorean 12
Back to the future with this one, as the DMC-12 was a disaster which in some ways was ahead of its time. A brushed stainless steel body, gullwing doors, and had quite a futuristic design. It was one of the worst supercars ever though being ever so slow with a 130hp V6 under the engine cover.
The DeLorean was too much for the company to handle. Yes, it would never rust but it was built poorly. Inside it was horrible and if it wasn't for the fact this car is a movie-star in the popular Back to The Future films, this thing would have never been remembered.
Orange County Choppers was a dramatic reality series that housed some of the most disagreeable people that could possibly exist within a family.
Arran Mehtam, is a reader, blog writer, content creator, and car enthusiast based in Birmingham, UK. He's had his own e-commerce businesses, his own car blogs, his own Etsy stores, and now he writes for Hotcars. Arran is a passionate petrolhead, who appreciates all car genres. Arran is currently studying in the UK.