Technological Echoes of Ancient Civilizations

Technology, Ancient Civilizations, technological Advancements in Ancient Civilizations, technological Advancements, Ancient Technology, Chinese Technology, Digital Creation

A Journey Through History and Irony

In this article, we explore the intriguing realm of technological advancements in ancient civilizations. Delve into the enigmatic past and uncover the astonishing technological achievements that have shaped human history.

  • Journey through the mysteries of ancient texts, architectural wonders, and scientific breakthroughs, shedding light on civilizations that may have surpassed our own technological prowess. From paper and printing to compasses and gunpowder, witness the innovation and ingenuity of our ancestors.
  • Join us on a captivating quest to unravel the secrets of the past and gain a deeper appreciation for the boundless potential of ancient civilizations.

As humanity continues to explore the mysteries of our planet’s history, one question that has fascinated historians and archaeologists alike is whether ancient civilizations could have been more technologically advanced than we are today. While this idea may seem far-fetched, there are several compelling arguments that suggest it is a possibility worth considering.

Imagine a world where ancient civilizations had access to technologies we can only dream of today. Perhaps they had the ability to harness the power of the sun, stars, and galaxies or to travel through time and space at will. Maybe they had machines that could create matter out of nothing or devices that could manipulate the fundamental building blocks of the universe.

At first glance, this may seem like pure fantasy. Fantasy and nothing more. But if we take into consideration where our current civilization stands, the possibility of this image being a reality at the time is also not that far-fetched.

In a 2012 sci-fi mystery movie, director Ridley Scott invited his audience to understand what humans are capable of and how “we wield incredible power; the power to transform, to destroy, and to create again.” For centuries, every scientific field has tried to determine what separates us from the animal kingdom. And the answers ranged from language to bipedalism. Throughout human history, which started in 33000 BCE around the time writing first appeared, for better or worse, our minds birthed civilizations —some lost to history, others meticulously studied — and technologies that forever impacted our planet and will eventually modify the universe.

To fully comprehend the fundamental aspects of technological advancements in ancient civilizations, it is imperative that we embark on a historical journey.

In 1930, a British engineer was sipping a cup of his favourite tea, staring at some highly complex diagrams, some stretching back nearly a hundred and fifty years. The clink of his teacup being placed back on its saucer was the only sound that signified the engineer suddenly leaning closer to a particular diagram, his eyes sharpening in focus as he spotted something that had previously been missed. And at that moment, Frank Whittle knew how to build an idea that had been patented in 1791. It was the gas turbine, more commonly known as the jet engine; a technology impossible for us to imagine being without today.

Chinese Technology Dominoes

Allow us to start by clarifying that the above isn’t a story about jet engine technology.  It’s about brewed tea, an ancient technology that probably triggered Mr. Whittle’s epiphany.

A beverage whose value in improving brain circuitry through higher cognitive function and more intricate organizational skills has now transitioned from the anecdotal to the empirical.

A beverage that required technology to extract its natural wonders so beneficial to the brain. A technology developed 4800 years ago in China.

Although not on the list of the four great Chinese technologies, this is an example of Ancient China’s particular brand of contributions to the world today, albeit with a little levity; creating the ‘first domino’, setting off a chain of further tech innovations which are so ubiquitous in our world today. 

Let’s have a look at these four technologies.


Living in a time when radio, television, and latterly, the Internet, have changed our information consumption habits. It may be difficult to imagine that social and economic progress, the spread of ideologies, education, governance, historical records, philosophy, sovereignty, literary arts, etc., etc., would not have been possible without paper. Parchment was the means by which to write thousands of years prior, as evidenced by the earliest known record of parchment literature, from Mesopotamia, known as The Epic of Gilgamesh. But two millennia later, paper technology unlocked mass communication, essentially the first step towards a global community, whether riven in the future by geopolitics and ideology or not. 

Paper was also dirt cheap to make with materials easy to find; was this the first true democratization of opportunity?

It’s a valid question because we certainly know that paper was the first domino of China’s next great technology. 


Around thirteen hundred years ago in the reign of the Tang Dynasty and seven hundred years before the German inventor Gutenberg introduced his printing press to the world, the Chinese gave us woodblock printing, followed up with moveable type printing a few hundred years later. Both were technological processes that reduced unit costs and raised capacity a thousandfold. And whilst the Mesopotamian tale of the search for immortality from two thousand years before was recovered as a few scraps of barely legible parchment, the first block printed book, The Diamond Sutra, is on view in The British Library.  

Moveable print technology, which came slightly later (in eon terms) was probably significant because it heralded the first paper money. It doesn’t take an economist’s brain to surmise, therefore, that the banking system which uses promissory notes to keep money circulating couldn’t have happened with this printing technology. You know the system. It may be on its way out but still, every time you pull out a banknote to pay for something, you have the Ancient Chinese to thank.


Depending on where you’re from, when you think of historical exploration, the name that probably first comes to mind would be Ibn Battuta, Hernán Cortés, Christopher Columbus (not sure why this Italian’s name was anglicized), Marco Polo, Ferdinand Magellan, Vasco da Gama or Francis Drake. Their adventures were aided by a remarkable navigational tool called the compass and it’s commonly believed that the twelfth century was the era that spawned this device. Yet there is evidence of an earlier compass – 1300 years earlier, was used by the Chinese. Not deployed to explore new lands, though, but as an accurate guide for soldiers to get home, during China’s Warring States period. It was called Sinan, which means ‘south governor’ and it was rudimentary in the extreme; a small piece of lodestone – a naturally magnetized metal – and a sliver of bronze would interact with each other, with the lodestone pointing north as a result. Presumably, whoever used it had no intention of going north – anything that points north also indicates where south lies! Hence the name ‘south governor’.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that both forms of magnetic navigation were discovered separately. Only history knows the truth. But as history stands today, the Chinese were the first. 

So now we come to the fourth great Chinese technology. And we’ve saved the best (and worst) for last. 


It’s surely one of history’s greatest ironies that, in trying to find an elixir for immortality, the Chinese discovered a way to kill people rather quickly. 

Eternal life and gold were what the Chinese Alchemists of that day were after; what they got was the first weapon of mass destruction.

It’s a common belief that, in China’s defence, they only used gunpowder for fireworks. Actually, what do you think fireworks were used for eleven hundred years ago, children’s parties? It’s assumed that it was Marco Polo who then exported this volatile brew of niter, sulfur, and charcoal.

Warfare has never been anything but a dreadful blight on humankind’s progress. But with the age of arrows and slings being replaced with explosions and firepower, it’s safe to write that we found a new depth where tribalism and intolerance could thrive.

Comparing the civil uses for gunpowder, such as quarrying, mining, pipelines, or road building, to its military use is akin to pitting a human’s gaseous emission against thunder. Without wishing to state the obvious, the technology of gunpowder has been one giant leap backward for humankind.

The Paradox of Knowledge Accumulation and Destruction

With all our technological advancements, experts fail to explain how certain monuments were built and survived. Have you heard of Karthika Deepotsava Stambha in Chennakesava temple, Belur? It’s a monolithic stampha (pillar) made of soapstone that has baffled scientists. The monument has neither a base nor foundation but a star-shaped granite platform to which it is not bonded. The pillar has been in place for centuries, dating back to 1414 CE, and is supported by its own weight on three of its four sides. There are no signs of the pillar ever falling to the ground. Seeing a large stone pillar stand upright for hundreds of years without adequate support or foundation is astounding. So, it is safe to say that they were ahead of their time.

There are several reasons to believe that ancient civilizations may have been more advanced than we give them credit for. For example, there are numerous stories from ancient texts that describe feats that would be impossible with the technology of the time. The ancient Indian epic, the Mahabharata, describes weapons that could destroy entire cities in a single blast, while the ancient Egyptian text, the Ebers Papyrus, describes surgical techniques that were not rediscovered until modern times.

If we go back in time, we see examples of ancient structures so advanced in their construction that they defy explanation. The Great Pyramid of Giza, for instance, was built over 4,500 years ago and remains one of the most impressive feats of engineering in human history. Its precise alignment with the stars suggests an advanced knowledge of astronomy, while its internal chambers and passages suggest a level of architectural sophistication that was not seen again until the modern era.

Stripped of all modernization, we are nothing, but a bag of bones and tissue fueled by complex emotions. Five thousand years ago, those people were the same as us. So, what a basic need is to you today was the same as then. Necessity was, is, and always will be the mother of invention. Innovation born out of need goes on to serve wrath, greed, love, and passion.

Imagine a world where Islamic civilizations, such as the Andalusian civilization, for instance, were at the forefront of technological innovation and development, producing most of the significant technological advancements in human history.

The Andalusian Empire, for instance, was a prosperous civilization that flourished in the Iberian Peninsula between the 8th and 15th Centuries. Renowned for its scientific and technological advancements, Al-Andalus has massively contributed to our current civilization’s technological advances. While our present-time civilization’s technological development can only be defined by its rapid digital growth, Al-Andalus’ technological expansion played a significant part in our present world’s transformation despite being drastically different.

When we talk about the destruction of the Andalusian civilization, we’re not talking about its demise as the land of the living, but rather the technological development that led to the stated dissolution. One aspect to examine can be by focusing on various historical accounts, such as political, societal, military, religious, economic interests, and cultural, among others.

Suppose we are to throw a comparative look at this ancient civilization and our current one. In that case, we will witness all these elements being melded in one way or another with technological development. Let’s take religion, for instance. Religion’s view on technological advancements falls under two classifications, one of support and another of obsolete rejection.

The Andalusian civilization, an Islamic society, promoted the pursuit of knowledge and encouraged scientific and technological advancements. Meaning Al-Andalus witnessed a consequential embrace of technological development. It deemed it a means to sufficiently understand and appreciate the world around it rather than viewing it as a contrary characteristic to its religious beliefs. Such beliefs promoted what can only be considered a heavy focus on accumulating knowledge, supported by religious beliefs, naturally. 

Throughout human history, and if history taught us anything, the accumulation of knowledge and the destruction of knowledge came hand-in-hand. Driven by curiosity and the thirst to explore and experiment, we see the historical accumulation of knowledge in ancient written texts, oral traditions, and even visual representations. Such knowledgeable gathering provided our present-day humanity with remarkable scientific, technological, medicinal, and even, cultural advancements. Helping humanity grasp the world around them.

Yet with such accumulation, and due to the calamitous nature of the human race, the destruction of knowledge throughout history has also been a pervasive and unfortunate feature worth looking at. The deliberate destruction of knowledge has been used as a tool of political and ideological control, often in times of war or conflict. For example, the burning of the Library of Alexandria in ancient Egypt and the cultural destruction caused by the Mongol conquests in the Middle Ages are just two examples of many such events throughout history.

The impact of these technological advancements on the future of human development cannot be overstated. Many of the discoveries and inventions made by ancient civilizations, especially by ancient Islamic scholars were later adopted by Europe and served as the basis for many of the scientific and technological advances that we take for granted today. The Islamic tradition of intellectual curiosity and open-mindedness toward scientific inquiry has had a lasting impact on the development of modern science and technology.

Reflections on the Digital Creation

Today, we have invested trillions of dollars in medicine and the pharmaceutical industry, all to create what we need to sustain our surprisingly fragile bodies. In doing so, we have echoed the exact needs of our ancestors, granted at a much larger scale. Look at medicine, pharmacology, and botany in the Andalusian civilization. This dedication to herbal medicine resulted in fundamental pharmacological advances.

Although humans have mastered the art of creation, we fail miserably in the application. Throughout modern history, someone has been creating to feed our curiosities and find an easier way around obstacles. Then, someone piggybacks off that first person and utilizes the creation for nefarious purposes. And when everything is said and done, we blame the inanimate object for the chaos. Time and time again, we fail to understand that our creations and, by extension, technology is not inherently evil.

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