Amazing Ancient Inventions – Part 1


This series of articles is about the inventions and innovations of the ancients. It will fascinate the casual reader as well as technology, science, and history buffs.

Our ancestors, however long ago they may have lived and whatever part of the globe they may have occupied, were no idiots.  Sad to say, over the few recent decades there have been many books on ancient technology that are nor only ill researched but that also have an ax to grind. Most commonly this has been a desire to attribute the wonders of  the ancient world to the efforts of ” ancient astronauts.” While we should not dismiss the possibility of past extraterrestrial contact out of hand, we should firmly reject the assumption that the technological advances of the ancient world were only achieved because of some kind of “outside help.” To us this seems like a kind of racism, in which our ancestors are looked down on simply because they lived in the past. The ancient-astronaut theories are only plausible if we denigrate the intelligence and abilities of ancient civilizations.

A popular misconception exists that the builders of the pyramids or the cave painters of prehistory were somehow less intelligent than we are. This simply isn’t true  – there is no evidence that the human brain has evolved at all  in the last fifty thousand years at least. Modern people are merely benefiting from thousands of years of accumulated knowledge and experimentation, not from increased intellect.

The Pyramids of Giza. The Great Pyramid is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the only one to remain largely intact. Egyptologists believe that the pyramid was built as a tomb for fourth dynasty Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu (Cheops in Greek) over a 10 to 20-year period concluding around 2560 BC. 

Hall of the Bulls, 17,000 BCE, created by an unknown shaman, Paleolithic cave painting, Lascaux, France

The real story of ancient ingenuity makes the spaceman theories redundant.  These ideas are part of mistaken view of history best described as “temporocentirsm” – the belief that our own time is the most important and represents a “pinnacle” of achievement. The “temporocentric” view is a hangover from nineteenth-century ideas of progress. This crude version of Darwinian evolution has led to many misinterpretations of the archaeological evidence for ancient technological and cultural achievements. Hand in hand with the belief that our time is the most advanced goes cultural arrogance and the assumption that other races are less inventive than one’s own.

—  Ancient Inventions”  by Peter James and archaeologist Nick Thorpe

Ancient Inventions – Top 10 Categories

In this series of articles we present an eclectic selection of ancient inventions organized into 10 categories:


  1. Agriculture
  2. Language
  3. Timekeeping
  4. Urban Life


  1. Home Improvements
  2. Transportation and Navigation
  3. Medicine
  4. Personal Effects
  5. Intimate Life
  6. Entertainment


NOTE: This part covers categories 1-5.  Part 2  covers remaining categories (6-10)

1. Ancient Agriculture

1.1 Ancient Irrigation

The first people to grow plants had to learn how to plant, weed, and water or drain crops. In tropical wet climate , there is enough natural rainfall to grow staple crops, however in a dry climate, most crop plants need water which must be provided by the farmer. Irrigation has been the technology underlying many of the world’s greatest civilizations. 

Egypt, China and Mesopotamia

The major success stories for civilizations based on agricultural irrigation are Egypt and China. Herodotus wrote that the Egyptians “get their harvests with less labor than anyone else in the world.”

Early irrigation was rather local and primitive, and food was not stored efficiently, so the early civilizations were vulnerable to long-term fluctuations in the Nile floods. There was no significant attempt at water storage: since all the water came from the Nile, any storage would have meant damming the river, which was far beyond the capability of the ancient Egyptians. Therefore their irrigation system was passive, and early Egyptian civilization depended largely on one winter crop per year. After it was harvested in the spring, the land lay fallow until after the next flood. Only in a few places with very wet soil was there any chance of a second crop, and among these areas were Abydos, Memphis, and Thebes, the great centers of ancient Egyptian civilization. They lay along the river, upstream from the Delta.


Irrigation has been an important base for agriculture in Mesopotamia (what is now Iraq and part of Iran) for 6000 years. But Mesopotamia is very different from Egypt. Mesopotamia has low rainfall, and is supplied with surface water by only two major rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. Although they are much smaller than of the Nile, they have much more dramatic spring floods, from snow-melt in the highlands of Anatolia, and they carry more silt. Furthermore, the plains of Mesopotamia are very flat, and poorly drained, so that the region has always had persistent problems with poor soil, drought, catastrophic flooding, silting, and soil salinity.

The earliest city-states of Mesopotamia, those of Sumeria, lay in the lowest, most water-rich areas of what is now southern Iraq. Irrigation could be fairly simple in this region, with each city-state probably building one irrigation system. The cities may have originally been administrative centers, marketing centers, and defensive centers related to local irrigation schemes: in other words, they were “irrigation cities”.

From time to time catastrophic floods overwhelmed the region. At Ur there is a well-known band of 1.5 m of clay between two layers of pottery. This is evidence of a major flood, and this event was probably the basis for the flood story in the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh and for the much later Biblical story of the Flood.

Mesopotamian engineers built very large weirs and diversion dams, to create reservoirs and to supply canals that carried water considerable distances across the flat countryside. The scale of their irrigation was larger than in Egypt, and Mesopotamian irrigation was interventionist and active. Almost certainly the idea of diversion dams was brought to Mesopotamia from the hills, since the rivers are mostly perennial. Mesopotamian tradition suggests so: Sargon of Assyria, probably learned it from the ancient nation of Urartu.

The scale and ambition of early Iron Age Mesopotamian projects was matched only in China and Egypt.

[ Source >> ]

Ancient Irrigation In South America

Hiram Bingham, the American explorer who found the ruins of Machu Picchu in 1911, wrote:

No less striking than the remarkable system of highways were the irrigation ditches which ran for scores of miles in the Central Andes. The height of the mountains, often rising to 18,000 or 20,000 feet, forces the moisture-laden winds coming from the east across the humid basin of the Amazon to deposit their burden in heavy rains on the eastern slopes of the great Andean chain. Little rain ever falls on the western slopes. On fact, one of the greatest deserts in the world is the two-thousand-mile coastal strip extending from central Chile to Ecuador.

The soil in the bottom of the valleys that cross this region is rich enough to grow luxuriant crops of sugar cane, cotton, and corn, but it needs to be regularly irrigated in order to do so. For this purpose the rivers, fed by melting snow in the high Andes, are deflected into irrigation ditches which follow the contours of the valleys for many miles. Inca engineers must have had good eyes and a fine sense of grading since they had none of the instruments on which our engineers depend to lay out similar projects. Imagine running a perfect contour for twenty miles!

Not only did the Incas provide their fields with necessary water, they also saw to it that their towns and cities had adequate supplies and for that purpose built fine aqueducts.

Source: ‘Lost City of the Incas, The Story of Machu Picchu and its Builders’ by Hiram Bingham,
the American explorer who found the ruins of Machu Picchu in 1911.


Irrigated terrace farms of the ancient Incan city, Machu Picchu in the mountains of Peru

Altiplano, Bolivia

Satellite photographs provide evidence of a canals system on the Altiplano, 12,000-foot high plains nestled in the Andes Mountains.  These irrigation canals, running in circular and in parallel straight lines for miles are  evidence of the lost civilization.

Hill with ringed channels or terraces destroyed by earthquakes on the northwest side of ancient Lake Poopo (Bolivia). The concentric rings were originally irrigation canals but in other similar sites only concentric terraces are seen. It looks like at a later time, people have re-occupied the area and built walls next to the remains of the channels or terraces.


Puzzling image from Google Earth – Bolivia – Ancient or Modern irrigation? Click to Enlarge.

Tiwanacu and Puma Punku

Were these stone cut (or molded?) modules were part of ancient water supply (or irrigation)?

A documentary on farms in the mountains of Peru (produced decades ago) suggested that trenches were dug to hold water with the primary reason to produce pre-winter steam. The sun heats the water in the day so that frost doesnt kill the crops and an additional 4 weeks of produce could be obtained. However, a dought then starved million of people relying on this method and they all abandoned the great city…

Read more: Ancient Ruins of Tiwanacu and PumaPunku


Note: Part 1 is divided into 8 pages.

To continue reading,
please click on the next page (#2) (Ancient Beekeeping):


  1. Gary Schoenung says

    Many of the “mysterious” accomplishments from our early recorded history were left over from an earlier age and simply taken advantage of and reused, sometimes for the original purpose and other times for something entirely different. The reason for that is because they didn’t have the slightest idea what to make of them either. This link is to a video I put together of a massive ancient irrigation system in South Africa covering hundreds of miles that was not reused, and there are presently no theories that I am aware of.

    I am looking forward to reading about any explanations for it.

  2. Elijah says

    I find the article shallow perpertrating and continuing fals concepts of 100 years ago. Breasted’s 4236bc is based on the date July 18 for Memphis when Thoth was on July 20 for 4245-4242bc and then July 19 for 4241-4238bc and July 18 for 4237-4234bc. However, shifting azimuth and shifting altitude from the sun was not accounted for and thats why Chicago’s Richard Parker in later encylclopedia made it quite clear that a Thoth 20 of 2782bc is to be revised to a Thoth 17 of 2770bc. If youre a Christian Hebrew adopted by Jesus you will then see how and why 2030bc July 17 is the true new year date which after Exodus became Persian Pamenot 1 after a 70-day absence of Sothis (May 8-July 17) that was 72-day at Ur (May 7-July 18) following Peleg’s death on May 6 which is why 365 days later Nahor Mes-Kalumdug and his (grand) son Haran (A-Kalumdug) poisoned themselves and four guards killing there 68 wives (exception Lot’s mother back in the city Harran preganant or nursing) to go to heaven to join Peleg as Christ the first leader into heaven. I shouldnt use the term Christ because christos comes from Xisuthros who is the spirit of Noah, and in true Genesis, Noah died on Christmas Eve almost 9 years after this suicide, and they claimed he was the Christ in heaven. The 365-day calendar did not exist before the Flood when years were 360 days. ALSO the word for 30-day “same-sized” months is civil month. A civil month is an artificial 30-day month.

  3. Chris Allan says

    If find it hard to reconcile the statement that the Egyptians could not build dams, but had no trouble building pyramids. Is it possible that a more advanced people lived on earth long ago, and were wiped out by some catastrophic event. All the old legends of flying machines etc. are just to detailed for them not to be based on actual events. Visitations by aliens is not necessarily the only explanation, an advanced people may have existed (Atlantis???) on earth in antiquity.

  4. Brenda Brown says

    Couldn’t it be that it was a little of both? I agree, nothings to say that early man didn’t know a lot more than we do today, and because of a major cataclysm, lost a large portion of their knowledge. I wonder if such an event took out a majority of our populace today, how many would know how to work with metals, make computers, build defence weapons, etc.? But at the same time, whose to say that some space race didn’t visit us in the ancient past and help us along? Why would that be so improbable? I think it’s highly likely.

  5. bill heaney says

    It is racism, no question about it, but is it wrong to think so? Using Occum’s Razor, the pyramids at Giza were built by people just like the one’s who live there now. If that is so, how did they lose their extraordinary building knowledge? There’s no modern building or monument in all of Egypt that can compare. It’s like they regressed. The inhabitants of the New World, in all of the Americas, didn’t have the wheel. Yet we are told they built the awesome pyramids attributed to them.
    The marvel regarding the cave art has nothing to do with the work itself, it is how they were able to do it in darkness. They find no carbon deposits on the ceilings in those caves with the extraordinary art. How is that possible?

    The recent archaeology find in Turkey, Gobekli Tepe[spelling?] is 12,000 years old, making the so-called Egyptian pyramids modern in comparison. Researchers have reported on finding petrified wood in and around the Giza monuments, hinting they are very much older, and modern dating has the Spinx much older.

    Ancient man was smart, but not all ancient men were as smart as we who read your books. That stone in Baalbek is proof that ancient man, the ones like those who live there now, could not have achieved that awesome skill. Look at that stone and explain it. Look at Nazca and explain how people without metal leveled those mountain tops. Come on, man, give me a break!

  6. says

    Interesting article. I look forward to more. . . . The prevalent and pernicious idea that our lowly caveman ancestors needed the godlike help of aliens to become “civilized” needs to be set aside. It isn’t provable. I believe civilization before the Cataclysm was, in some ways, more advanced than ours. By the way, I prefer “chronocentrism”–but either will work. Thank you.


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