Five Modern Technologies That Might Not Be So Modern

We think we live in such modern times, with fabulous inventions that make our lives easier and provide great convenience. But some of those inventions might not be as modern as we think. Take a look at these five inventions that may have been around for thousands of years before we “invented” them.

Jet engine

A jet engine in the first century B.C.? Perhaps. A jet engine in the first century A.D.? Definitely. The aeolipile is a rocket style jet engine that spins when it’s heated and is the first-ever device known to use steam for a rotary motion. Although it was “invented” in 1698 by Thomas Savery, the original may have been invented in the first century B.C. Roman architect Vitruvius’ De architectura, a work on then-modern architecture written around 25 B.C., includes a device called the aeolipile. However, it has never been verified that his aeolipile (which translates to “ball of Aeolus,” who was the god of the wind, so it’s kind of a generic name that could apply to various inventions) was the aeolipile that we know existed in the first century. That’s the aeolipile that Hero of Alexander wrote about, including a detailed description of how to construct one. The invention credit is usually given to Hero instead of Vitruvius.

Automatic doors

That Hero was a pretty smart guy. He also invented the vending machine long before we were prying Kit Kats out of them in our office break rooms. Hero rigged it so that when a coin was dropped into a slot, it fell on a pan, and the weight of it on the pan triggered a lever that opened up a valve that let some holy water flow out to the person who dropped the coin in. The pan kept tilting until the coin fell off of it, and when that happened the valve closed and the water would no longer dispense. The first modern-day vending machine came about in the 1880s, so you could say that Hero was well ahead of his time.

Analog Computer

We’ve long thought that the first astronomical clocks didn’t show up until the 14th century in Europe. That all changed in 1900 when a group of divers discovered shipwreck thought to date back to 150-100 BC. A lot of the loot was stuff you might expect from that era - statues, busts, instruments and utensils. But then one of the divers spotted what looked like a gear stuck in a rock, which was eventually found to be just one of many pieces of the same thing. Upon closer inspection and much analysis (decades of analysis, in fact), it was determined that the gear and its 80+ other pieces were part of a complicated mechanism that precisely calculated the position of the sun, moon, planets and other astronomical information. It was capable of predicting an eclipse right down to the hour that it would occur. Astronomer John Seiradakis has called it the “pocket calculator of its time.” Its construction was so perfect and exact that many historians and archaeologists believe that the Antikythera Mechanism was just one of many similar devices - we just haven’t discovered the other ones yet. Here’s curator Michael Wright with his working replica of the Antikythera Mechanism - it’s pretty interesting stuff. Photo from the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project.


We’re not sure about this one - it’s just a theory. But there is some speculation that the ancient Egyptians may have understood how to harness electricity. The entire argument is based on stone reliefs inside the Dendera Temple complex in Egypt. What the etching appears to depict, to some, are bulbs, filaments and insulators. It also looks like a lotus flower and a snake. The argument could probably stop there - obviously humans are programmed to spot patterns in things and could easily see a now-everyday object in an ancient etching when it’s really not there. But English scientist J.N. Lockyer (he discovered helium) pointed out that the tombs were conspicuously soot-free - if Egyptians were using candles or torches, there would no doubt be some evidence of it on the walls or ceilings. But there is no evidence. A lot of people believe that the Egyptians used a series of mirrors to reflect the sunlight into the temple, but others say that their mirrors were too weak to do any such thing. Thus, the argument continues. What do you think? Photo from Wikipedia user Liftarn.


Along the same line as the Dendera Temple light is the Baghdad Battery. In the mid-1930s, a number of artifacts thought to date back to 200 BC were found in Khuyut Rabbou'a, a village near Baghdad. The combination of objects - a five-inch long clay jar and a copper cylinder that encased an iron rod - led researchers to believe that the ancient artifacts were actually used as batteries. Batteries for what, we still don’t know. Unlike the Dendera light though, there’s some evidence that these really were batteries - replicas have been made that did, in fact, conduct an electric current, sometimes as much as two volts. One theory is that the batteries were hidden inside of idols to give tiny little shocks to people, scaring people who didn’t understand the trick and often forcing them to give up secrets or confess to crimes. Photo from the BBC.

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Yes, and as we all know, aberron: artistic renderings can be interpreted one way - and one way only.

*Note: if one hopes to engage in intelligent discourse, yet feels the urge to exclaim the anagram, 'STFU', should follow their own advice.
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About the bulbs, from Wikipedia: "The view of Egyptologists is that the relief is a mythological depiction of a djed pillar and a lotus flower, spawning a snake within, representing aspects of Egyptian mythology".

Best :)
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