Much of modern science was known in ancient times. Robots and computers were a reality long before the 1940´s. The early Bronze Age inhabitants of the Levant used computers in stone, the Greeks in the 2nd century BC invented an analogue computer known as the Antikythera mechanism. An ancient Hindu book gives detailed instructions for the construction of an aircraft –ages before the Wright brothers. Where did such knowledge come from?
The amazing Antikythera Mechanism found in a shipwreck off the island of Antikythera in Greece. (Tilemahos Efthimiadis / CC BY 2.0)
The Days and Nights of Knowledge
1500 years ago, people generally believed that the earth was flat and rectangular. However, as early as the 6th century BC Greek philosopher Pythagoras theorized that the earth must be a sphere and in the 3rd century BC the Greek mathematician and astronomer Eratosthenes had deduced that the earth was round and computed its circumference.
Oddly enough, peoples further back in time had greater scientific knowledge than the European nations of Byzantine and Medieval times. Until the second part of the 19th century, scholars in Europe thought that the Earth was just a few thousand years old. Yet ancient Brahmin books estimated the Day of Brahma, the life span of our universe, to be 4,320 million years – not very far off from modern calculations. Modern science emerged from the medieval darkness during the renaissance. By studying classical sources humanity re-discovered old-truths that had been known by the Babylonians, Ionians, Egyptians, Hindus, or Greeks for many centuries.
Imago Mundi Babylonian map, the oldest known world map, 6th century BC Babylonia. ( Public Domain )
Medieval cities of France, Germany, and England were usually built by accident (without any planning.) The streets were narrow, irregular, and had no way to manage sewage. Because of the unsanitary conditions epidemics and plagues devastated these towns.
But around 2500 BC, the cities of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa, in today’s Pakistan, were as carefully planned as Paris or Washington. An efficient water supply, drainage, and rubbish chutes were provided. Besides public swimming pools, many homes also had private bathrooms. Until the end of the last century this was a luxury in Europe and America.
Panoramic view of the stupa mound and great bath at Mohenjo Daro. (Saqib Qayyum/ CC BY SA 3.0 )
Before the latter part of the 16th century, Europeans had neither spoons nor forks on their tables –they used only knives and their fingers. Yet the people of Central America had these one thousand years before the appearance of Cortes. In fact, ancient Egyptians used spoons even earlier – in 3000 BC.
Modern science has only rediscovered and perfected old ideas, it has demonstrated that the world was much older, vaster, and globalized than was thought only a few generations before.
The Lost Documents of Mankind
One of the greatest handicaps archaeologists and historians are confronted with is a lack of evidence. If it were not for burning libraries in antiquity, mankind’s history would not have so many missing pages.
The famous collection of Pisistratus (6th century BC) in Athens was ravaged, the papyri of the library of the Temple of Ptah in Memphis were totally destroyed. The same fate befell the library of Pergamon in Asia Minor containing 200,000 volumes. The city of Carthage, razed to the ground by the Romans in the seventeen-day fire in 146 BC, was said to possess a library with half-a-million volumes. But the worst blow to mankind’s history was the burning of the Library of Alexandria in the Egyptian campaign of Julius Caesar; during which 700,000 priceless scrolls were irretrievably lost. The Bruchion contained 400,000 books and the Serapeum 300,000. There was a complete catalogue of authors in 120 volumes, complete with a brief biography for each author.
5th century scroll illustrating the destruction of the Serapeum by Theophilus. ( Public Domain )
The Alexandrian Library was also a university and research institute. The university had faculties of medicine, mathematics, astronomy, literature, as well as other subjects. A chemical laboratory, astronomical observatory, anatomical theater for operations and dissections, and a botanical and zoological garden were some of the facilities of the educational institution where 14,000 pupils studied, laying the foundation of modern science.