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Top 10 Insanely Advanced Ancient Technologies

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Garrett Alden

This tech was truly ahead of its time! From Greek Fire, to Houfeng Didong Yi, and Hypocaust, you won’t believe when these were created. WatchMojo counts down the Top 10 Insanely Advanced Ancient Technologies.

Special thanks to our user Arthur W. Mingo III for suggesting this idea! Check out the voting page at: https://www.WatchMojo.comsuggest/Top+10+Ancient+Technologies+still+used+today


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Top 10 Insanely Advanced Ancient Technologies

This tech was truly ahead of its time! Welcome to and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Insanely Advanced Ancient Technologies.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the pieces of ancient technology that were far more advanced than most of their contemporaries, or even better than what we have today!

#10: Greek Fire

672 AD
Although often a generalized term applied to any sort of incendiary weapon, the Greek fire invented by the Byzantine Empire was truly something special. Primarily used at sea, Greek fire, also called sea fire, was a substance projected through siphons or pressurized nozzles onto enemy ships, which were then ignited. Though its method of delivery was also highly advanced, what made Greek fire unique was that it could not be extinguished by water. Its exact composition was such a closely guarded secret that we still don’t really know what it was made of.

#9: Houfeng Didong Yi

132 AD
Zhang Heng was an ancient Chinese polymath who invented this remarkable device, whose name translates to "instrument for measuring the seasonal winds and the movements of the Earth". An early seismoscope, Heng’s invention was a bronze urn-like machine that used a pendulum and cranks to drop a ball in one of eight directions, which indicated the direction of an earthquake. This allowed the government to quickly deliver aid to regions affected by the disasters. The houfeng didong yi was able to detect earthquakes from hundreds of miles away, even if no tremors were felt by those in its vicinity, which was very impressive for the time.

#8: Hypocaust

350 BC
Central heating is a relatively recent development. Or is it? The hypocaust was a form of primitive central heating invented by the ancient Greeks and later adopted by the Romans. Meaning “under burnt,” hypocausts were created with furnaces built under buildings, which fed smoky, hot air into a space built between the ceiling of the lower room and the floor of the upper one, with pipes and outlets used to heat walls and upper floors. While some private residences used them, they required lots of labor, usually done by slaves, to maintain, so they were normally found in public buildings, like baths or temples.

#7: Uunartoq Discs

Pre-11th century AD
Named for the town in Greenland where the first was discovered, Uunartoq discs are compasses that were used for navigation by the Vikings. The famed mariners and raiders used these discs in concert with sunstones, which were calcite crystals, to navigate even when the sun was behind clouds or below the horizon; though the latter was likely less common, as they often sailed above the Arctic Circle, where the sun rarely sets during certain seasons. The discs and stones allowed Vikings to navigate within a few degrees of accuracy, and while still not perfect, that was definitely way ahead of its time.

#6: Ancient Metal Plating

They don’t build ‘em like they used to – in fact, they can’t! Numerous metal plating and gilding techniques of bygone times are far superior to those of our modern day. Ancient metalworkers were able to coat their metals in films of gold and silver in ways we still don’t understand; creating beautiful, and lasting, works of art. In addition, some artifacts, such as the Iron Pillar of Delhi, India, are still standing (and rust-free) after 1600 years, due to being constructed with phosphorous, which acts as a better “undercoating” than those we have today.

#5: Steam-Powered Pigeon

~400-300 BC
Archytas was an ancient Greek philosopher and polymath, and, among other notable developments he created a bird-like device powered by steam. A hollow wooden contraption attached to a source of steam, this “pigeon” was filled with pressure to the point where it was launched through the air; allowing it to fly for a few hundred meters. Besides being an early example of steam power, some have referred to Archytas’ invention as being among the first flying machines or even one of the first robots.

#4: Lycurgus Cup

~300-400 AD
Surely a cup can’t be an advanced piece of technology…right? Well, as it happens, they can be. The Lycurgus Cup is an ancient Roman cup that changes colors depending on which direction it’s lit, and possibly which substance is put inside it. This effect is achieved by microscopic gold and silver particles within the glass; which means that the Romans developed rudimentary nanotechnology over a thousand years ago. Not only that, but the Lycurgus Cup is arguably more advanced than current technology used for differentiating different substances within water, and has been inspiring scientists to emulate it. We may think we’re serious drinkers now, but the Romans took things to a whole other level.

#3: Ancient Chinese Drills & Gas Pipelines

Drilling deep into the ground may seem like a recent human endeavor, but China has been delving the Earth’s depths for around two millennia. The ancient Chinese drilled into the ground not for oil, but for salt, which was rare further inland. To find it underground, they developed high sophisticated drilling technology, capable of reaching hundreds of feet underground and with a variety of drill bits for different situations. Their excavations also uncovered methane pockets, which, along with the salt water, they harvested and transported using bamboo pipelines.

#2: Hero’s “Robotic” Cart

60 AD
Hero, or Heron, of Alexandria was in many ways the Leonardo Da Vinci of the 1st century. He created many things that were centuries ahead of their time, including automatic doors and even a coin operated vending machine. Arguably one of his most impressive inventions was a programmable cart that some consider to be one of the earliest robots. Instead of strings of code though, the cart was programmed with literal strings, allowing it to go forwards and backwards, as well as turn.

#1: Antikythera Mechanism

~205-60 BC
Named for the island it was found off the coast of, this mysterious device was actually an Ancient Greek analogue computer. Composed of bronze and around the size of a clock, the Antikythera Mechanism could be used to indicate the location of the stars, the phases of the moon, and the position of the planets the Greeks knew about years in advance. It could also keep track of the four year cycle of games like the Olympiad. The device used complex clockwork the likes of which would not be seen again until the 14th and 15th centuries ,and its creation predates most computers by a good 2 thousand years!

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