10 interesting historical inventions you thought were modern

6) Land Mine (13th century AD) –


According to Joseph Needham, in his book Science and Civilization in China, the Chinese forces under the Song Dynasty did use explosive landmines as a defensive strategy against the marauding Mongols. On particular incident during this time pertains to the year 1277 AD when one Lou Qianxia crafted an ‘enormous bomb’ that was successfully detonated when the Mongols were besieging a southern Chinese settlement. The follow-up to such military actions led to the documentation of the said technology in the famed 14 century Chinese manual Huolongjing. The explanation for these landmines mainly related to the use of hollow cast iron balls that were presumably filled with gunpowder.

Interestingly, the Huolongjing also has a detailed passage that describes the use of tactical landmines that can be set off by enemy movements (thus mirroring our present-day technology). According to the text –

These mines are mostly installed at frontier gates and passes. Pieces of bamboo are sawed into sections nine feet in length, all septa in the bamboo being removed, save only the last; and it is then bandaged round with fresh cow-hide tape. Boiling oil is next poured into (the tube) and left there for some time before being removed. The fuse starts from the bottom (of the tube), and (black powder) is compressed into it to form an explosive mine. The gunpowder fills up eight-tenths of the tube, while lead or iron pellets take up the rest of the space; then the open end is sealed with wax. A trench five feet in depth is dug (for the mines to be concealed). The fuse is connected to a firing device which ignites them when disturbed.

7) Eye Glasses (13th century AD) –


There is certainly a bit of confusion regarding the actual time period of the invention of the eyeglasses. According to a sermon delivered by Dominican friar Giordano da Pisa, eyeglasses were supposedly developed in Italy by 1286 AD. In fact, there are also documentations (like in one of the chronicles of the Dominican Order) that Giordano’s colleague – Friar Alessandro della Spina of Pisa had a talent for making nifty eyeglasses, which he then shared with his friends. By early 14th century, there were supposedly business regulations for guilds who specialized in crafting eyeglasses in Venice.

However, according to Professor Berthold Laufer, a German-American anthropologist, spectacles were most probably of Indian origin – with the basis being that the German word ‘brille‘ (eyeglasses) was ultimately derived from the Sanskrit ‘vaidurya‘. Moreover, there were also claims put forth by Marco Polo about his encountering of eyeglasses in China during the 13th century.

8) Parachute (15th century AD) –


The oldest parachute design in its conceptual version was rendered in a manuscript dating from 1470’s Renaissance Italy, written by an anonymous person. However, the great polymath Leonardo da Vinci made his improved design as a detailed sketch in the famed Codex Atlanticus (in around 1485 AD). But once again, the physical variety of the parachute might have come later, with Croatian inventor Fausto Veranzio (Faust Vrančić) improving on da Vinci’s sketch to built an actual specimen. He MAY have even tested his contraption (known as Homo Volans) at the ripe age of 65, when he performed a ‘parachute jump‘ from a tower of St Mark’s Campanile in Venice (or St Martin’s Cathedral in Bratislava).

Interestingly, the very term ‘parachute’ has confused many a language analyst – with some claiming it to have French origins, while others claiming it to have Italian origins. However, one thing is certain – the predominance of parachutes as a feasible technology was borne by necessity in 18th century France, when the adventurers needed a safety device when demonstrating their flights in hot-air balloons.

9) Mechanical Automaton (15th century AD) –


Clad in heavy German-Italian medieval armor, the mechanical knight was design in 1495 as a humanoid automaton. And interestingly, the machine with its internal system of pulleys, gears, levers and cranks, MIGHT have been the very first human-like robot physically created in history of mankind – by none other than da Vinci himself. According to some accounts, this so-called robot was ceremoniously displayed at the court of Milan during a gala hosted by the city’s Duke Ludovico Sforza.

Fueled by these internal mechanisms (distributed evenly across the torso and the body’s lower-part), the Robotic ‘Knight’ supposedly had the capacity to both sit down and stand up, while also showing its ability in lifting its visor and even moving its head. And quite intriguingly, the famed roboticist Mark Rosheim (known for his contributions to NASA and Lockheed Martin) successfully built a version of this humanoid automaton in 2002 by making use of da Vinci’s drawings, discovered in 1950’s. And, the result aptly demonstrated the effectiveness of the original design with the robot being able to fluidly move and wave.

10) Newspaper (early 17th century AD) –


It should be noted that government announced bulletins and even news sheets were actually common during the Roman Era and Han Era (in Asia). For example, in Rome, the bulletins were known as Acta Diurna, and they were carved in both metal and stone, and then positioned in public places. While in Han China, the government circulated news letter was known as the Hibao (or ‘reports from the [official] residences’). However, the first known newspaper (as in ‘news printed in paper’) was published in the year 1605.

Known as Relation aller Fürnemmen und gedenckwürdigen Historien, the German-language weekly was published by Johann Carolus in Strasbourg, which was a free-city within the Holy Roman Empire. It was followed by the Avisa, another German weekly that started out in 1609 AD, and was published from Wolfenbüttel.

Honorable Mention – The ‘Analog Computer’ (late 3rd century BC) –


The Antikythera mechanism was salvaged from a southern Greece shipwreck in 1900, and since then the proverbial ‘contraption’ has astonished archaeologists and scientists alike, by virtue of not only its evolved workmanship but also its advanced purpose. To that end, the mechanism is often stated as the world’s oldest gear ‘machine’, and is also called the world’s oldest analog computer – crafted to detect (or predict) various complex astronomical observances (including eclipses).

Oddly enough, in spite of such praises and hyperbolic statements, historians have still not been able to find out much about the creator of this state-of-the-art mechanism. The only substantiated factors are that the machine was made by Greek astronomers, and it was built around the period of 205 BC. As for the exact source of the enviable craftsmanship, there are several conjectures including the most recent hypothesis from ‘The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project‘ that proposes that the device was conceptualized in one of the colonies of Corinth (which can include Syracuse – the home of Archimedes). Other inferences pertain to the mechanism’s origin in Pergamum (in present-day Turkey) or in Rhodes – with both locations being known for ancient accomplishments in the fields of science and astronomy.

Book References: Coulton, J. J. (1974), “Lifting in Early Greek Architecture” / Needham, Joseph (1986), “Science and Civilization in China

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