Computers and Automatic Doors? 5 Things You Will Hardly Believe the Ancient Greeks Could Build

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Aside from the more obvious achievements of the Ancient Greeks such as, say, The Acropolis, democratic governance, the first true theatrical works, or myriad branches of philosophy, they also made some pretty ridiculously amazing things you might not have heard of. And in fact, even though you probably know there were some rather bright, innovative folks wandering around Athens and Boeotia and all in the last few centuries before the Common Era, you will still likely find a bit of smoke coming out of your ears as you consider these five things that they made several millennia before that whole Industrial Revolution thing. And before harnessed electricity and power tools and super glue, too.

5 A Computer

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Yeah. It’s called theAntikythera mechanismand as far as we can tell, it is essentially an analog computer that happens to date from 100 B.C. It is the most complicated and impressive feat if engineering from the Ancient world, with a level workmanship not seen anywhere else until well into the Renaissance. The device was likely capable of automatic calculations. Not bad, considering how long it takes the average “modern” individual to calculate an 18% tip after dinner.

4 The Odometer

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Ancient Greeks liked keeping track of their road trips every bit as much as the modern college student. And they liked measure distances precisely even more than today’s college kids, if that’s possible! This device may have been made by good ol’ Archimedes or it might have been the brainchild of an Alexandrian named Hero, but regardless of who invented it, it existed and was the first practical odometer. The device consisted of a series of disks and gears that ticked along each time a set unit of distance was covered and generally impressed anyone who realized “Hey, this is the Ancient world and we have an odometer. Nice.”

3 The Water Screw

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Ah, plumbing. We take it for granted until the toilet backs up, at which point there is a great wailing and gnashing of teeth and calling of plumbers. The Greeks could probably relate, because thanks to Archimedes, they had a form of plumbing. The Water Screw could draw water from a source below it up to any height desired (within reason) by using a carefully carved screw fitted into a watertight pipe. When turned in the right direction, the screw created endless sealed pockets of water being carried up toward its desired location, and then gravity could do the rest, getting it back out of there, ideally downstream…

2 Automatic Doors

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Thought the supermarket’s sliding doors were the cat’s meow when it comes to high-tech, did you? Well you’re a few twenty two or three centuries late, buster. Schematics and probable physical remains have been found of a system that is, in a word, amazing. It consisted of a brazier on a large post which was connected to a simple steam engine housed below the floor of a temple. When a fire was lit in the brazier, it heated up a cauldron of water directly below it, which was designed such that the steam coming from its boiling water was directed to turn a series of cranks that opened the temple doors. Ingenious both in its engineering, and in that to the uninformed Grecian citizen, it was a pretty convincing show of divinity that the act of lighting a fire in tribute to a deity opened the doors of said deity’s temple.

1 Electricity

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Oh, wait, did I say they didn’t have any form of electricity? My mistake, they did. That’s right, there are plural accounts of Greek scientists (for lack of a better word) studying and to some extent understanding the properties of electrical current and its collection. The Ancient smartypants (their word) Thales wrote extensively on the subject, and had even figured out how to reliably create static electricity by rubbing amber, straw, and various other materials together. The Ancient Greeks may also have created primitive batteries (which did exist at the same time in history, as evidenced by the “Baghdad Battery” found in 1938) which, if proven, would kind of be… shocking. Sorry.

So there you have it: we already knew the Ancient Greeks were some pretty smart folks, and know we know that they were indeed much smarter even than we thought. And we probably feel that much more ashamed of ourselves for hardly being able to build that Ikea furniture last weekend.

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