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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Did Ancient People Have Advanced Technology?


For thousands of years, humans have been resourceful, making tools out of stone, wood, clay, and metal. In the land that is now occupied by Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Iran was once a highly fertile region dominated by ancient civilizations. It was from this land that the first civilization is thought to have originated. From there, civilization is said to have gradually progressed up to the present level of technology. It is commonly thought that prior to the Mesopotamian culture, humans were primitive cave dwellers. But, is this really the case?

The Bagdad Battery

In the central region of the Mesopotamia lies a country that has had much history. A country that has seen the rise and fall of great empires, a country that has been a subject throughout the Bible, Iraq (ancient Babylon) is not a location one would think advanced technology could be unearthed from. A short distance from Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, in the village of Khujut Rabbou'a, a German archeologist who was the director of the National Museum of Iraq, Wilhelm Konig made a unique discovery. In 1936, workers excavating the ruins of Kujut Rabbou'a, an ancient village near Baghdad, unearthed a pot made of yellow clay (6). gives this description for the object:

A 6-inch-high pot of bright yellow clay dating back two millennia contained a cylinder of sheet-copper 5 inches by 1.5 inches. The edge of the copper cylinder was soldered with a 60-40 lead-tin alloy comparable to today's solder. The bottom of the cylinder was capped with a crimped-in copper disk and sealed with bitumen or asphalt. Another insulating layer of asphalt sealed the top and also held in place an iron rod suspended into the center of the copper cylinder. The rod showed evidence of having been corroded with an acidic agent [sic]. (6)

This mysterious object naturally drew the curiosity of the director of the National Museum of Iraq. Upon discovering the object in the museum’s collection, Konig published a paper in 1940 on his reasons for believing that the object was an ancient battery. He speculated that it, along with nearly a dozen other similar batteries, was used for electroplating gold onto silver objects (6). Other experts have concurred with Konig (6). Willard F.M. Gray, learned about Konig’s hypothesis and put it to the test. In 1940, he constructed a replica of the battery and filled it with a copper sulfate solution. The battery produced half a volt of electricity. Other replicas of the Baghdad battery, using grape juice as an electrolyte to transmit the electric current, have produced a current of just under one volt per battery (6). Arne Eggebrecht, the director of Roemer and Pelizaeus Museum in Hildesheim (16), constructed a replica of the Baghdad battery in the 1970s (6). Using fresh grape juice in his replica--what he considered to be a more authentic electrolyte than that used by Gray--Eggebrecht succeeded in producing 0.87 volts (6). Then, Eggebrecht connected several of these replicas together with wire. Using the series of connected batteries, he claimed to have deposited a thin layer of silver--one ten thousandth of a millimeter thick--on another surface (16). Some skeptics have said that the copper cylinder was used for storing scrolls, but have not been able to account for the corroded iron rod and the asphalt or bitumen cap and why all three components were found together.

The Antikythera Mechanism

computer rendering
Some decades before the discovery of the Bagdad batteries, an object that had rested on the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea for thousands of years, had been discovered by divers off the coast of Crete, causing many historians to change their views on ancient history. In 1901, a team of divers were in search of sea sponges between the coasts of Crete and mainland Greece. They got a real surprise when they discovered a sunken ship with treasure onboard: treasure unlike anything they had expected. Inside a wooden box was an object made of many corroded, bronze gears (5). When scientists x-rayed the artifact, they found that it was composed of approximately 30 gears (22). In 1959, after much research on the Antikythera Mechanism, Derek Price, a British historian, theorized that the mechanism was used for astronomy to make calculations. According to, the “complexity of the gears found within the Antikythera Mechanism baffled scientists, since this type of ‘technology’ was not though to have been in existence until around 1575” (5). Scientists have determined that the ancient device was built around 87 B.C. (22). Many scientists have built on Price’s work, agreeing that the Antikythera Mechanism was a kind of early computing device. It proves that ancient people knew that the Earth orbited around the Sun (5). It also shows that while some philosophers, such as Aristotle, believed that the Sun orbited around the earth, others knew better.

Ancient Egyptian Model Plane?

Ancient technologies are not limited to instruments such as batteries or calculators. Rare and astounding artifacts have been found around the world that suggest that the ancients may have not only used wind and muscle power for transportation. In 1898, archeologists excavating a tomb near Saqqara, Egypt discovered a small wooden object that looked somewhat similar to a bird. The object was stored in the basement of the Cairo museum and forgotten. At the time, operational planes had yet to be invented and the Wright brothers had not made their famous flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. According to the standard view, the first lighter-than-air flight had been achieved by two Frenchmen in a hot-air balloon, in the 1780s (21). When the wooden object was rediscovered years later and put on display, it was labeled as a model airplane (4). In the 1970s, a team of Egyptologists was formed to investigate the object. Because it strongly resembled a plane, a group of aviation experts was assembled to study the object’s aerodynamics and structure (14). After much research, they concluded that it was a glider. When they threw it into the air to see if it would glide, the small craft did so gracefully and with ease (14). When Dr. Khalil Messiha, an expert on ancient models, studied the ancient glider, he concluded that it had very advanced aerodynamics and was similar to modern pusher-gliders that require very little power to stay airborne (21). One interesting question arises: Is it possible that this glider was actually a model of an aircraft that the Egyptians planned on building or had built?

Strange Embossed Images in the Temple of Abydos

Corroborating evidence for the idea that the ancient Egyptians might have constructed aircraft can be found in the ancient temple of Abydos, Egypt. One of the most controversial and interesting finds relating to the idea that the ancient Egyptians might have had or known about aircraft was made by Dr. Ruth Hover, during a trip to Egypt. Dr. Ruth Hover and her husband visited the temple of Abydos, snapping pictures as they wandered through the vast complex. She photographed a wall that had remained after an overlying section had crumbled and fallen off of it (14). This older section revealed strange, embossed images of what appeared to be aerial vehicles. Others, who had heard about Hover’s discovery, went to Egypt, to the temple of Abydos, and confirmed that the embossed images were real, snapping their own pictures, proving that Hover had not created a hoax (21). One of these embossed images resembles a helicopter, having a distinct helicopter-like tail, a tapering fuselage, rotor blades, and a cockpit. No insect or bird even remotely resembles the shape of the “helicopter” image. Skeptics claim that the images are actually palimpsests, the combination of two or more overlapping hieroglyphics (21). These same skeptics, however, have no way of scientifically explaining how the pyramids were built. (We will look into that a little later.) Were these images depicting ancient aircraft, or were they depicting something else, or were they just palimpsests? There is not enough evidence to prove or disprove any of the above possibilities, but the possible connection to the ancient glider model is interesting.

Unusual Golden Artifacts