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3 Ancient Technologies We Haven’t Figured Out

greek fire

Believe it or not, there are many technological advancements from the past that we don’t understand! The inventors of the past have created many of the necessities and luxuries in our lives, however, some inventions are still secrets to us. They were created long ago and the purpose or method of recreating them had not been recorded. So we have examples of the technologies, but no understanding of why they were made or how to replicate them.

We’ll talk about 3 examples of this phenomenon today but there are actually many examples of this! This will be a series of blogs we continue in the future since it’s so fascinating!

Nimrud Lens

Nimrud lens

The Nimrud lens is a 3000 year old rock crystal that was found in Iraq at the palace of Nimrud. It was discovered by Austen Henry Layard in 1850 but it has been estimated that it was created in the range of 750-710 BC! While we have no way of knowing the true purpose of the lens, it has been hypothesized that this was a part of a telescope since the people living in the area at the time did have in-depth knowledge about astronomy.

If this lens was a part of the telescope, then it proves that Galileo wasn’t the first person to invent the telescope. It has also been guessed that it was used as a magnifying glass or burning glass to start fires by concentrating sunlight. The last guess that scientists have is that due to the beautiful shimmering pattern, the lens could be a decoration for the palace.

Greek Fire

greek fire

The incendiary weapon known as Greek Fire was used by the Byzantine Empire in the 11th century. It was used to set fire to enemy ships since they were throwing a combustible compound with a flame throwing weapon. Historians believe that the compound could be ignited when it came into contact with water and supposedly the fire could also burn strongly on top of water.

While the engineering and chemical makeup of the compound is not understood today, it has been hypothesized that the compound was made from a base of quicklime which is very reactive with water. The best guess at the composition is pine resin, naphtha, quicklime, calcium phosphide, sulfur, or niter.

Flexible Roman Glass

flexible roman glass

Vitrum Flexible (Flexible Roman Glass) was created long ago between the time of 14-37 AD. The story goes that a man named Petronius invented the flexible glass back then in the Roman Empire. He showed the Emperor of the time, Tiberius Caesar a glass object. Petronius asked the Emperor to hand the object back to him and then threw it on the ground. However, the glass did not break, only dented. Petronius was able to mold it back to the original shape right there on the spot.

While this invention sounds amazing, Caesar did not think so. He thought that this invention would devalue precious metals so he had Petronius beheaded. The knowledge of how to create the glass was lost with this act.

Now this invention isn’t exactly lost today! Similar products have recently been invented by Corning. They introduced Willow Glass, a flexible glass more commonly known as Gorilla Glass. While it took thousands of years to replicate Petronius’ work, engineers got there eventually.

Tresca Can Help

Here at Tresca, we haven’t figured out the ancient inventions of the past, but we’re ready to help you with your next invention & engineering project. We’d love to talk about your next project. If you want to learn more about how our team can help you during the engineering process, please contact us today to discuss how we can work together.


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