Many science fiction writers have explored what our society would be like if events happened differently in the past. But, what if inventions and innovations happened differently? Some of the innovations and inventions that have defined much of today’s society and our lifestyles date back to a long, long time ago. It is these most ancient of innovations that to a large degree made possible and even determined the scope of future inventions and innovation.
These are ten ancient innovations that shaped the direction of our society in chronological order:
2,500,000 BC – Tools
The earliest tool fragments are dated to more than two million years ago. But, it is believed early man used tools before then, likely fashioning them from materials such as wood or bone perished over the years. The axe emerged as early as 10,000 BC.
600,000 BC – Fire
Though fire is naturally occurring, often caused by lightening, the ability to control it is learned. It is believed that early man used naturally occurring fire more than a million years ago. Evidence suggests that it wasn’t until about 600,000 years ago that we learned to command fire. The ability to start fire in a flash came much later with the invention of the match in 1827.
30,000 BC – Fish hook
This simple curve shaped innovation allowed humankind to catch a meal without much less danger and possibility of personal harm. The earliest hooks are believed to date back to around 30,000BC and were fashioned out of curved wood and even carved bone. Horns, shells, and thorns were also used for making hooks. Hooks allowed fishing without having to go into the water and allowed fishing to take place in deeper waters than was possible before, thereby increasing the food supply.
30,000 BC – Bow and arrow
This was the first innovation that allowed us to leverage physical strength to kill prey at a farther distance. Before this innovation hunting was done with stones, sticks, and bones using whatever direct force the human body could generate. With the bow came the ability to collect force into the tension of the bow to instantly release it once the proper strength was reached, thereby increasing the impact from the arrow.
12,000BC – Drum
No one can be for sure when humankind first banged with a bone, gourd, stick or other means for purposes other than applying force to kill prey or to crack nuts. Somehow, out of swinging and banging, we began to use the natural props around us for entertainment and then even communication. The drum is both one of the first forms of musical instrument, as well as a primitive form of communication. The earliest known tuneable instrument, a stringed harp, was first played in what we know as Iraq around 4,500BC.
5,000 BC – Weighing scales
Original forms of scales were balanced levers with a standard weight on one side. They were used by merchants to measure goods in a transaction. The Egyptians used crude form of scales in around 5,000BC and by 3,000BC used them to weigh gold in units called ‘kites’.
3,500 BC – Wheel
The wheel is the basis of all of modern day transportation and even mass production. The earliest evidence of a wheel is a pictograph from Sumeria, now known as Iraq dating back to 3,500 BC. 2400 BC.
2,400 BC – Umbrella
Umbrella is derived from umbra, which is the Latin word for shade. The umbrella can be traced back to Mesopotamia where they were used as sunshade. Rain-resistant versions of the umbrella later popped up in China about 300AD and were made of treated paper. In 1852, a Sheffield manufacturer, Samuel Fox invented the modern steel-ribbed umbrella.
2,000 BC – Locks
Although clever knots were among the earliest solution for protecting property and treasures, It is believed that the Egyptians were the first to use the lock and key about 4,000 years ago. The Egyptian wooden contraption used a key to lift pins, allowing a latch bar to slide free. The Egyptian device was similar in concept to the pin-tumbler lock invented in 1848 by Linus Yale, whose name continues to appear on billions of locks and keys around the world.
700 BC – Archimedes Screw
The screw leverages extended surface tension to maintain traction. The Archimedes Screw is basically a giant screw that funnels water or other material against gravity. Believed to be devised by the ancient Greek physicist Archimedes of Syracuse in the 3rd century BC to expel bilge water from creaking ships, the screw that bears his name actually predates Archimedes by about 400 years. Other earlier screws have been discovered, which are capable of shifting water “uphill” and were used in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in the 7th century BC. The innovation continues to be used today in some sewage plants and irrigation ditches. This innovation is also used in different boring and transportation vehicles. In the “Hunt for Red October” movie, the rogue Russian submarine being hunted was propelled by a virtually silent screw like mechanism.
Image via Wikipedia
It is not difficult to see how these 10 innovations set the direction of our society. Now imagine what the world, what life would be like if we had used different solutions.
What if we didn’t develop the wheel but an alternative solution? The Incas and the Aztecs did very well without wheels. One alternative could have been the sled system (reduced friction for gliding). Today research is being done to mimic animal characteristics for a replacement to the wheel. Prototypes have already been developed for devices that allow for transportation over all terrain, even where various forms of wheel-based devices would not work well.