Amazing Ancient Inventions – Part 2

April 8, 2013

Post image for Amazing Ancient Inventions – Part 2

Amazing Ancient Inventions – Part 2

This is Part 2 of our series of articles is about the ancient inventions and innovations.

Return to Part 1 >>

Here are subject categories covered in Part 2:

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

5. Home Improvements

5.1 Glass Windows

The earliest windows were just holes in a wall. Later, windows were covered with animal hide, cloth, or wood. Shutters that could be opened and closed came next.


Image: The “rock tombs of Caria, Kaunos, 4th century B.C.,” photographed by Takeo Kamiya

Over time, windows were built that both protected the inhabitants from the elements and transmitted light: mullioned glass windows, which joined multiple small pieces of glass with leading, paper windows, flattened pieces of translucent animal horn, and plates of thinly sliced marble. In the Far East, paper was used to fill windows.

The Romans were the first known to use glass for windows.

In Alexandria ca. 100 CE, cast glass windows, albeit with poor optical properties, began to appear.

Mullioned glass windows were the windows of choice among European well-to-do, whereas paper windows were economical and widely used in ancient China, Korea and Japan.

In England, glass became common in the windows of ordinary homes only in the early 17th century whereas windows made up of panes of flattened animal horn were used as early as the 14th century.

Modern-style floor-to-ceiling windows became possible only after the industrial glass making process was perfected. Modern windows are usually filled with glass, although a few are transparent plastic.


6. Transportation and Navigation

6.1 Maps

Cartography, or map-making, has been an integral part of the human story for a long time, possibly up to 8,000 years. From cave paintings to ancient maps of Babylon, Greece, and Asia, through the Age of Exploration, and on into the 21st century, people have created and used maps as the essential tools to help them define, explain, and navigate their way through the world. Mapping represented a significant step forward in the intellectual development of human beings and it serves as a record of the advancement of knowledge of the human race, which could be passed from members of one generation to those that follow in the development of culture. Maps began as two dimensional drawings. Although that remains the nature of most maps, modern graphics have enabled projections beyond that.

Earliest known maps

The earliest known maps are of the heavens, not the earth. Dots dating to 16,500 BCE found on the walls of the Lascaux caves map out part of the night sky, including the three bright stars Vega, Deneb, and Altair (the Summer Triangle asterism), as well as the Pleiades star cluster. The Cuevas de El Castillo in Spain contain a dot map of the Corona Borealis constellation dating from 12,000 BCE.

Cave painting and rock carvings used simple visual elements that may have aided in recognizing landscape features, such as hills or dwellings. A map-like representation of a mountain, river, valleys and routes around Pavlov in the Czech Republic has been dated to 25,000 BP, and a 14,000 BP polished chunk of sandstone from a cave in Spanish Navarre may represent similar features superimposed on animal etchings, although it may also represent a spiritual landscape, or simple incisings.

Ancient Star Charts and Sky Maps


Sumerian Star Chart: Sky Map of Ancient Nineveh 3300 BC

A reproduction of a Sumerian star map or “planisphere” recovered from the 650BC underground library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh, Iraq in the late 19th century. Long thought to be an Assyrian tablet, computer analysis has matched it with the sky above Mesopotamia in 3300BC and proves it to be of much more ancient Sumerian origin. The tablet is an “Astrolabe”, the earliest known astronomical instrument. It usually consisted of a segmented, disc shaped star chart with marked units of angle measure inscribed upon the rim. Unfortunately considerable parts of the planisphere are missing ( approx 40%), damage which dates to the sacking of Nineveh. The reverse of the tablet is not inscribed. Still under study by modern scholars, the planisphere provides extraordinary proof of the existence of Sumerian astronomy…and a very sophisticated astronomy at that.  138mm x 8mm thick.  Source:



 An example of a late Egyptian astronomical depiction carved on the ceiling of the chapel of Osiris, temple ofDendera, from the end ofthe Ptolemaic period (first century B.C.). Size of the original: 2.55 x 2.53 m. By permission of the Musee du Louvre, Paris.  More about Ancient Egyptian Astronomy >>


Another ancient picture that resembles a map was created in the late 7th millennium BCE in Çatalhöyük, Anatolia, modern Turkey. This wall painting may represent a plan of this Neolithic village; however, recent scholarship has questioned the identification of this painting as a map.

Whoever visualized the Çatalhöyük “mental map” may have been encouraged by the fact that houses in Çatalhöyük were clustered together and were entered via flat roofs. Therefore, it was normal for the inhabitants to view their city from a bird’s eye view. Later civilizations followed the same convention; today, almost all maps are drawn as if we are looking down from the sky instead of from a horizontal or oblique perspective. The logical advantage of such a perspective is that it provides a view of a greater area, conceptually. There are exceptions: one of the “quasi-maps” of the Minoan civilization on Crete, the “House of the Admiral” wall painting, dating from c.?1600 BCE, shows a seaside community in an oblique perspective.

The earliest known maps to have survived in China date to the 4th century BCE.


The Chinese Yu Ji Tu (Map of the Tracks of Yu the Great), a map carved into stone in the year 1137 during the Song Dynasty, located in the Stele Forest of modern-day Xian, China. Yu the Great refers to the Chinese deity described in the Chinese geographical work of the Yu Gong, a chapter of the Classic of History. Needham and Chavannes assert that the original map must have predated the 12th century.

The graduated scale of this gridded map is at 100 li (Chinese mile) squared for every representative square in the grid. The overall size of the map is 3 ft squared. The coastal outline is relatively firm and the precision of the network of river systems is incredibly accurate. The name of the geographers and cartographers who initially created the map are unknown. In the year 1142 a copy of the map was preserved at Zhenjiang in Jiangsu province by a certain Yu Chi, who was then a Prefectural Director of Studies. There is also mention of an earlier copy of about 1100 AD which itself was based on the Chang’an version. Needham asserts that the map was used primarily to instruct students while referring to sites described in the ancient Yu Gong chapter of theClassic of History.

This image is taken from Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilization in China: Volume 3, Mathematics and the Sciences of the Heavens and the Earth, on the page PLATE LXXXI, as well as described on pages 547 to 549 (hardback copy). I, PericlesofAthens, took the photo of this public domain image.

Ancient Near East

Maps in Ancient Babylonia were made by using accurate surveying techniques.

For example, a 7.6 × 6.8 cm clay tablet found in 1930 at Ga-Sur, near contemporary Kirkuk, shows a map of a river valley between two hills. Cuneiform inscriptions label the features on the map, including a plot of land described as 354 iku (12 hectares) that was owned by a person called Azala. Most scholars date the tablet to the 25th to 24th century BCE; Leo Bagrow dissents with a date of 7000 BCE.[page needed] Hills are shown by overlapping semicircles, rivers by lines, and cities by circles. The map also is marked to show the cardinal directions.

An engraved map from the Kassite period (fourteenth–twelfth centuries BCE) of Babylonian history shows walls and buildings in the holy city of Nippur.

In contrast, the Babylonian World Map, the earliest surviving map of the world (c.?600 BCE), is a symbolic, not a literal representation. It deliberately omits peoples such as the Persians and Egyptians, who were well known to the Babylonians. The area shown is depicted as a circular shape surrounded by water, which fits the religious image of the world in which the Babylonians believed.

Examples of maps from ancient Egypt are quite rare, however, those that have survived show an emphasis on geometry and well-developed surveying techniques, perhaps stimulated by the need to re-establish the exact boundaries of properties after the annual Nile floods. The Turin Papyrus Map, dated c.?2500 BCE, shows the mountains east of the Nile where gold and silver were mined, along with the location of the miners’ shelters, wells, and the road network that linked the region with the mainland. Its originality can be seen in the map’s inscriptions, its precise orientation, and the use of colour.

Early Greek maps

In classical antiquity, maps were drawn by Anaximander, Hecataeus of Miletus, Herodotus, Eratosthenes, and Ptolemy using both observations by explorers and a mathematical approach.

Early steps in the development of intellectual thought in ancient Greece belonged to Ionians from their well-known city of Miletus in Asia Minor. Miletus was placed favourably to absorb aspects of Babylonian knowledge and to profit from the expanding commerce of the Mediterranean. The earliest ancient Greek who is said to have constructed a map of the world is Anaximander of Miletus (c.?611–546 BCE), pupil of Thales. He believed that the earth was a cylindrical form, like a stone pillar and suspended in space.[12] The inhabited part of his world was circular, disk-shaped, and presumably located on the upper surface of the cylinder (Brown, 24).

Anaximander was the first ancient Greek to draw a map of the known world. It is for this reason that he is considered by many to be the first mapmaker (Dilke, 23). A scarcity of archaeological and written evidence prevents us from giving any assessment of his map. What we may presume is that he portrayed land and sea in a map form. Unfortunately, any definite geographical knowledge that he included in his map is lost as well. Although the map has not survived, Hecataeus of Miletus (550–475 BCE) produced another map fifty years later that he claimed was an improved version of the map of his illustrious predecessor.
Hecatæus’s map describes the earth as a circular plate with an encircling Ocean and Greece in the centre of the world. This was a very popular contemporary Greek worldview, derived originally from the Homeric poems. Also, similar to many other early maps in antiquity his map has no scale. As units of measurements, this map used “days of sailing” on the sea and “days of marching” on dry land (Goode, 2). The purpose of this map was to accompany Hecatæus’s geographical work that was called Periodos Ges, or Journey Round the World (Dilke, 24). Periodos Ges was divided into two books, “Europe” and “Asia”, with the latter including Libya, the name of which was an ancient term for all of the known Africa.

The work follows the assumption of the author that the world was divided into two continents, Asia and Europe. He depicts the line between the Pillars of Hercules through the Bosporus, and the Don River as a boundary between the two. Hecatæus is the first known writer who thought that the Caspian flows into the circumference ocean—an idea that persisted long into the Hellenic period. He was particularly informative on the Black Sea, adding many geographic places that already were known to Greeks through the colonization process. To the north of the Danube, according to Hecatæus, were the Rhipæan (gusty) Mountains, beyond which lived the Hyperboreans—peoples of the far north. Hecatæus depicted the origin of the Nile River at the southern circumference ocean. His view of the Nile seems to have been that it came from the southern circumference ocean. This assumption helped Hecatæus solve the mystery of the annual flooding of the Nile. He believed that the waves of the ocean were a primary cause of this occurrence (Tozer, 63). It is worth mentioning that a similar map based upon one designed by Hecataeus was intended to aid political decision-making. According to Herodotus, it was engraved upon a bronze tablet and was carried to Sparta by Aristagoras during the revolt of the Ionian cities against Persian rule from 499 to 494 BCE.

Anaximenes of Miletus (6th century BCE), who studied under Anaximander, rejected the views of his teacher regarding the shape of the earth and instead, he visualized the earth as a rectangular form supported by compressed air.

Pythagoras of Samos (c.?560–480 BCE) speculated about the notion of a spherical earth with a central fire at its core. He is also credited with the introduction of a model that divides a spherical earth into five zones: one hot, two temperate, and two cold—northern and southern.[citation needed] It seems likely that he illustrated his division in the form of a map, however, no evidence of this has survived to the present.

Spherical Earth and Meridians

Whereas a number of previous Greek philosophers presumed the earth to be spherical, Aristotle (384–322 BCE) is the one to be credited with proving the Earth’s sphericity. Those arguments may be summarized as follows:

  • The lunar eclipse is always circular
  • Ships seem to sink as they move away from view and pass the horizon
  • Some stars can be seen only from certain parts of the Earth.

A vital contribution to mapping the reality of the world came with a scientific estimate of the circumference of the earth. This event has been described as the first scientific attempt to give geographical studies a mathematical basis. The man credited for this achievement was Eratosthenes (275–195 BCE).


Oldest surviving map showing the Americas

The Piri Reis map drawn by the Ottoman cartographer Piri Reis in 1513, is one of the oldest surviving maps to show the Americas. The Turkish admiral admits in a series of notes on the map that he compiled and copied the data from a large number of source maps, some of which dated back to the fourth century BC or earlier.  



Piri Reis map of Europe, the Mediterranean Sea and North Africa from his Kitab-? Bahriye (Book of Navigation), 1521-1525


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Note: Part 2 is divided into 7 pages.
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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

James October 22, 2013 at 1:44 pm

I have always enjoyed articles on this site, but I will not be back. Now that you bow to the censorship of google, (yes, I am aware that I typed a lower case g) you are less than the dirt on the sole of my shoe. Congratulations.


J.a May 1, 2013 at 3:32 am

So much more than just the price a hot dollar subject o what a game just love it.


Tichie April 13, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Wonderfull !


Francesca Thomas April 13, 2013 at 2:09 pm

A very interesting collection of articles. I have been very interested in writing about this subject as well. Despite the heavy dependence on Wikipedia, I can use this article as a guide, when writing my own thoughts about the ancient past.

I was also disappointed that section 9 could not be uploaded due to Google’s stupid rules about sex.
That section was supposed to be about aphrodisiacs, contraceptives and the kamasutra, as mentioned in part 1. Again, at least I know what NOT to write about, but I am not happy that Google is censoring such subjects.


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