Evolutionary models show us how, over thousands of years, humans have become more powerful and creative, finding new solutions to the barriers imposed by nature. But that leads many people to think our ancestors were not as intelligent as ourselves, and that time also gave us a better capacity for intellectual development. However, in the last decades, there have been discoveries of such astounding, ancient objects that they easily shorten the gap between extinct cultures and our own. Here we will see ten of the most interesting ancient objects found among such discoveries.
In 1955, a farmer in the Netherlands found a large piece of wood buried under what would later be a motorway. At first, the object was believed to be nothing more than an old chunk of carved wood. But to remove any doubt, a replica of the object was placed on water to test its buoyancy, demonstrating in the end that the wood was very stable. Thus, the researchers came to know that what seemed to be simple remains of a rotten trunk were actually the remains of a boat.
In turn, analysis of the wood determined that the boat was built around 8,000 BC during the Mesolithic period, making it the oldest known canoe in history. The object, now known as the Pesse Canoe, is three meters (10 feet) long and was built with Scotch pine wood. Currently, the Pesse Canoe is exhibited at the Drents Museum in the Netherlands.
Let’s go even further back in time. In 1908, during the construction of a cellar in northern Ukraine, workers found remains of artifacts and tools created by early humans in 20,000 BC. Among the remains were huts, musical instruments, and carved statuettes. But the most remarkable artifacts were two bracelets made of mammoth bones, with symmetrical lines engraved on their surfaces. While these lines were seen for a long time as a form of artistic expression, studies made since the 1960s concluded that they might be the oldest solar-lunar calendars written in a compact form.
The first bracelet is an extended lunar-solar calendar, while the second one is a simplified version of the lunar calendar. Thus, the first bracelet consists of 564 lines or twenty lunar months, and its three central parts complete a solar calendar of 366 days. Meanwhile, the second bracelet is divided into five parts totaling ten lunar months, with the total number of days of each month. These bracelets are currently in the National Museum of the History of Ukraine.
King Tut’s Iron Dagger
Ancient Egypt is well known for being the greatest civilization of its time, due to its vast knowledge of science and military strategies. But even today, its culture continues to reveal to us impressive secrets. In 1925, the archaeologist Howard Carter found two iron daggers in perfect condition inside the tomb of the famous Egyptian King Tut (Tutankhamun). One of the blades was on the pharaoh’s chest, indicating that it was a precious object for him.
Recent X-ray tests revealed that the dagger is composed of iron with high concentrations of nickel, similar to a meteorite located 240 kilometers (149 miles) away from Alexandria. This confirmed that the knife is made of extraterrestrial metal. While it took years for other cultures to discover the origin of meteorites, the Egyptians knew well that such objects sporadically fell from the sky, referring to them as “black copper from the sky.” But what surprised scientists the most is that the dagger is perfectly constructed and molded, demonstrating the advanced ability of ancient Egyptians to work with metals.
Roman “Swiss Army Knife”
No one doubts about the fantastic culture that ancient Romans developed, represented in their buildings, traditions and military forces. But there exists a single object which, even despite its size, proves by itself the advanced ingenuity of Ancient Rome. We are talking about a pocket device currently known as the Roman “Swiss Army Knife.”Acquired in 1990 by the Fitzwilliam Museum of Cambridge (England), the Roman ‘Swiss Army Knife’ is a pocketknife built sometime during the 3rd century AD.
It incorporates utensils such as a spatula, a spoon, a spike, and a pick. The artifact is made of silver and iron, unlike other pocket knives of the time commonly built in bronze, which probably indicates that it was an expensive object for wealthy people. At the same time, none of the mentioned pocket knives or multi-tools was as advanced as this one in particular. In fact, because of its complexity, it is quite similar to the actual Swiss army knives, which began to be manufactured many centuries later, in 1886.
Intihuatana Solar Clock
Although it may be defined more as a construction, it is indeed an artifact. Intihuatana is the name given to a stone pillar that works as a solar clock, built in Machu Picchu (Peru) during the Inca period. The Intihuatana structure is made of a single piece of granite 2 meters (6 feet) tall, with a section dedicated to an altar for sacrificial offerings. On the other side, there is a square column whose four edges are aligned with the cardinal points, pointing to magnetic north. Also, the base is perfectly aligned to the setting point of the Sun during the December solstice. The whole structure is on top of a carved hill 24 meters (80 feet) tall.
Intihuatana worked for the Incas as a solar clock that allowed them to determine the beginning and end of each season of the year, marking the solstices and equinoxes (during the equinoxes the pillar does not cast any shadow). Some people might think that this structure was only a religious building and had no scientific purpose. But the truth is that another clock with the same characteristics is located in the Pisac region, near Cusco, confirming its use in the astronomy field.
Chinese “Fire Dragon” Rocket
During the Ming Dynasty between the 14th and 17th centuries, China achieved significant advances in the use of gunpowder to launch projectiles, methods that were recorded in the book “Wubei Zhi,” written in 1621. One of these advances took place at the beginning of the 14th century, with the creation of a two-stage rocket called “Fire Dragon Over Water”. It consisted of a hollow bamboo tube 1.5 meters (5 feet) long, with a dragon head carved at the front. It was filled with gunpowder in the rear section and several smaller rockets inside the middle part of the tube.
The weapon had two rockets that allowed it to fly at the height of one meter (3 feet) above the water, while the main body moved forward thanks to the combustion of its internal gunpowder. When the lower rockets burned out, a fuse ignited the small rockets inside, which flew out from the front of the tube through the dragon’s mouth. In this way, the rocket was able to reach enemy ships three kilometers (1.9 miles) away and destroy them thanks to its inner arsenal, which was launched in mid-flight. It was a highly advanced artifact for the time, and definitely superior to any other enemy projectile. Several hundred years passed until the idea of a multi-stage rocket was mentioned again, in the early 20th century.
In 1901, while French archaeologists were making an expedition to the ruins of the ancient city of Susa (Iran), they found a basalt pillar 2.5 meters (8 feet) tall which turned out to be the well-known Hammurabi’s Code. The creation of this code was requested by the King Hammurabi of Babylon during the 18th century BC, due to the expansion of his territories which became more difficult to control. In the 12th century BC, the pillar was moved to the Susa Acropolis for its exhibition. The object has a carved image in the upper part that shows the king receiving his royal investiture. In turn, the text in the rest of the stone is composed of three parts.
First, there is a prologue that summarizes the nature of the empire and the position of Hammurabi. This is followed by a lyrical epilogue that serves as an introduction to the legal part. And in third place, there is a set of 282 laws grouped into chapters, covering topics such as family, slavery, trade, and agriculture, among others. These rules include the famous law that establishes proportional punishment, the act of retaliation or “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” although the severity of penalties depended on the person’s social class. Also, the pillar includes a list of the territories governed by Babylon. Although it is not the oldest code of laws that have been discovered, it is the most complete and one of the most extensive. It functioned as a regulatory system so effective over the entire population that it served as literary inspiration for more than a thousand years.
During a sea expedition to the island of Antikythera (near Crete) in 1901, divers found a machine powered by gears, whose remains were scattered inside a sunken ship with valuable cargo. However, they thought it was just a clock, so the machine did not receive attention and it was only stored. Then, in 1951, the English physicist Derek de Solla argued that it was an astronomical measurement device, the first known analog computer.
It is now believed that the machine was created around 205 BC, a thousand years before Europe was able to develop similar mechanisms during the medieval period. The device was made of bronze and had the size of a shoe box, composed by dozens of gears that formed a complex system capable of accurately predicting solar and lunar eclipses. The mechanism could describe the movement of the Moon, the Sun and the five planets known by Greeks at that time. It also measured time according to the ancient Egyptian calendar and the Zodiac signs.
Akrotiri Gold Ibex
Akrotiri was a large Minoan city located in what is now the island of Santorini (Greece), until the 16th century BC. During the end of the 17th century BC, a series of earthquakes and a volcanic eruption forced the inhabitants of Akrotiri to evacuate the city and leave their belongings there, which remain in the same place until today. During an excavation in Santorini in 1999, a gold ibex 10 centimeters (4 inches) long was found. This was the only gold object found in the excavation, a piece dating back to the 17th century BC.
The figurine is hollow on the inside, and it was made using the lost-wax technique, in which molten metal is poured into a mold with a heat-proof core for the sculpture to be hollow. The legs, neck, and tail were soldered and polished, using a hammer for the details. The gold ibex is currently on display at the Museum of Prehistoric Thera, also in Santorini. It is believed that the item was used for religious ceremonies. This is undoubtedly an excellent proof that the Minoan civilization mastered the technique of lost-wax casting, a process that is still used in our times.
Greek Robotic Bird
Finally, let’s go back to Greece because we still have a great invention to see there. Archytas of Tarentum was a Greek mathematician who lived between the 4th and 5th century BC, and as a follower of Pythagoras, he firmly believed in mathematics as the basis of knowledge. He is often called the father of mechanics, and around 400 BC, he created a bird-shaped mechanical device. It was, indeed, a robotic bird and probably the first drone in history.
This single machine was able to move its wings and fly up to 200 meters (656 feet) away, being powered by steam or compressed air. It was connected to a wire with a counterweight at one end While there are no physical records of its creation to date, the bird’s design is so remarkable that many centuries later the mathematician Hero of Alexandria mentioned it in one of his books.