Human Origins, Historical Oddities, Evolution Etc.

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lshap
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Human Origins, Historical Oddities, Evolution Etc.

Post by lshap »

One of my favorite pet hobbies these days is various cryptic historical topics.

Primarily human origins and evolution but also lost cities, weird ancient tech like the antikythera machine (sp?) and JD's little bronze balls (heh), and Voynich manuscript and the like.
It seems I'm not alone in having some interest in stuff like this, so...a dedicated thread!

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Jennifer
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Re: Human Origins, Historical Oddities, Evolution Etc.

Post by Jennifer »

On a Star Trek thread just a few weeks ago, I mentioned the real-world discovery that the steam engine was actually invented in ancient Greece -- somebody did make such an engine, tiny, only powerful enough to move the smallest of toy gadgets, and for some reason nothing much ever came of that invention, and everybody forgot about it until millennia later, when archaeologists dug it up somewhere. But by then, we'd already re-discovered the principle of steam engines on our own, this time without squandering their potential, so while the discovery of that Greek engine was an interesting historical curiosity, it didn't result in our taking any technological leaps forward.

But I wonder: what if that early Greek steam engine had caught on, because people back then did recognize the awesome potential such devices had? (ETA: Or at least, because the useless little toys it powered got really, really popular?) Would we have had our Industrial Revolution three thousand years earlier than our timeline? Or would industrialization still have to wait until the mass exploitation of coal or other fuel sources more energy-intensive that the biological fuels humanity relied upon until then: burning some combination of wood, animal dung or fats/oils?
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Re: Human Origins, Historical Oddities, Evolution Etc.

Post by Jennifer »

Also, link to the Antikythera Project.
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Re: Human Origins, Historical Oddities, Evolution Etc.

Post by lshap »

I remember reading about that steam engine.

This is the type of thing I find fascinating. How many other inventions were made before their time, lost, and reinvented?

The general conclusion of my own research on these topics is that all of these things keep getting pushed farther back in history as we make new discoveries.

For example, prevailing theory was humans learned to sail around 60000bce. But then, how do we have humans in Australia by 80000bce?

Likewise, when I was in China years ago, the museum had examples of electroplated metal from the era of the first emporer.
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Re: Human Origins, Historical Oddities, Evolution Etc.

Post by Jennifer »

lshap wrote: 24 Apr 2021, 08:06 I remember reading about that steam engine.

This is the type of thing I find fascinating. How many other inventions were made before their time, lost, and reinvented?

The general conclusion of my own research on these topics is that all of these things keep getting pushed farther back in history as we make new discoveries.

For example, prevailing theory was humans learned to sail around 60000bce. But then, how do we have humans in Australia by 80000bce?
Outta-my-ass speculation: possibly via crossing a land bridge, long-since lost due to a combination of rising sea levels, and vulcanism. (For just one example of the latter, there is literary/historical and geological evidence suggesting that Java and Sumatra were a single island until a huge volcanic eruption in the sixth century AD created the Sunda Strait between them.) I also recall reading -- IIRC in one of the QI fact-collection books Jeff likes to collect -- that Australian Aborigines' languages and folktales have names for and locations of actual (former) mountains and highlands which are now underwater and have been for thousands of years.
Likewise, when I was in China years ago, the museum had examples of electroplated metal from the era of the first emporer.
I seem to recall reading of the discovery of a suspected battery device -- copper and whatever combined in a ceramic jar -- somewhere in Mesopotamia, and they speculated it was used to power a primitive electroplating device.
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Re: Human Origins, Historical Oddities, Evolution Etc.

Post by Aresen »

Not a 'lost' invention, but one that fell out of use in Europe: Aqueducts.

The Romans built aqueducts everywhere, but they fell out of use in Western Europe after the 5th Century CE. The primary reason seems to be that they require a large organization to build and are very easy for attacking armies to destroy. With the tiny principalities of Western Europe constantly at war with each other, they just could not be maintained. Also, one of the primary reasons that Al-Andalus fell to the Christians in Spain was that the Muslims' superb waterworks kept getting wrecked by the Christians. (I'm looking at you, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar.)

Also, Roman roadbuilding technology was lost, mainly because there was no imperial interest in long-distance travel/communication.

IIRC, when the Renaissance rediscovered Vitruvius' text (from the Muslims), it was a revelation to them.
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Re: Human Origins, Historical Oddities, Evolution Etc.

Post by Jadagul »

In at least some cases, the tech doesn't go anywhere because it needs complementary tech to be useful.

So like, the Greeks could make a steam engine. But they didn't have the metallurgy to make them at a useful scale. A lot of what Watt did wasn't "hey, we could use steam to move a piston", but solving the engineering challenges in building a thing that actually worked with power at scale. Quality of metal, precision of cylinder engineering, that sort of thing.

Edit: there's another classic answer, which is that labor-saving devices are only worthwhile when labor becomes scarce and expensive enough. So it also probably matters that the rising tide of technology had made everyone wealthier by the 1700s.

(It's underappreciated that farming technology was in fact improving throughout the dark ages.)
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Re: Human Origins, Historical Oddities, Evolution Etc.

Post by Pham Nuwen »

The Sahara used to look like the american midwest until about 6k years ago. That's still wild to me.
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Re: Human Origins, Historical Oddities, Evolution Etc.

Post by Eric the .5b »

Possibly another way of putting the labor cost issue: when so much of it is done by slaves or non-citizens without full rights or power, there isn't so much intellectual effort spent on saving labor.

These groups described a majority of people in many Greek city-states, so it was even more pervasive than US slavery (which still retarded the development of industry in the South).

There's an interesting PDF article "Why was cycling not included in the ancient Olympics?" that is a PITA to link on mobile, but searching the exact title should work. Primitive bicycles, scooters, etc. are interesting in their absence from the ancient world.
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Re: Human Origins, Historical Oddities, Evolution Etc.

Post by Eric the .5b »

Pham Nuwen wrote: 24 Apr 2021, 15:53 The Sahara used to look like the american midwest until about 6k years ago. That's still wild to me.
Similarly, the Amazon wasn't a great, untamed jungle as recently as around 1500. There was a civilization built on a standardized farming layout there that a few Spanish explorers encountered (and then promptly went fuuuuuck, way too many to conquer with a few ships of dudes). European diseases hit, and the whole thing fell over and got grown over. We only have those obscure records and more recent archaeology as evidence they were even there.
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Re: Human Origins, Historical Oddities, Evolution Etc.

Post by Warren »

I have a casual interest in lost arts/skills.

According to something I saw last year, there's only one guy in the world that makes parchment.

At one time some years ago I think there were no tatters at all, but I suspect the internet has changed that.
*googles* It has! And how.

Does anyone still program in BASIC anymore?
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Re: Human Origins, Historical Oddities, Evolution Etc.

Post by Jennifer »

Eric the .5b wrote: 24 Apr 2021, 16:14 There's an interesting PDF article "Why was cycling not included in the ancient Olympics?" that is a PITA to link on mobile, but searching the exact title should work. Primitive bicycles, scooters, etc. are interesting in their absence from the ancient world.
I wonder if it has something to do with different properties of rubber and wood -- perhaps small wooden wheels carrying significant weight can only go so fast before breaking? Metal wheels could've worked, except not only would they be wickedly expensive, they'd be painfully jolty to anyone riding the vehicle unless the roadway was perfectly smooth, like railway tracks, and even the best of the old roadway systems weren't that smooth (assuming they could've handled all that extra weight anyway). If so, that would explain why it wasn't until after the development of rubber and subsequent invention of tires that anyone made wheeled vehicles for fast horseless personal transportation, rather than for animal-drawn transport or hauling.

ETA: Also, going back to what Jadagul said about complementary tech, I don't think even a primitive bicycle would work without a fairly sophisticated gear-and-chain setup, would it?
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Re: Human Origins, Historical Oddities, Evolution Etc.

Post by lunchstealer »

Jennifer wrote: 24 Apr 2021, 23:29
Eric the .5b wrote: 24 Apr 2021, 16:14 There's an interesting PDF article "Why was cycling not included in the ancient Olympics?" that is a PITA to link on mobile, but searching the exact title should work. Primitive bicycles, scooters, etc. are interesting in their absence from the ancient world.
I wonder if it has something to do with different properties of rubber and wood -- perhaps small wooden wheels carrying significant weight can only go so fast before breaking? Metal wheels could've worked, except not only would they be wickedly expensive, they'd be painfully jolty to anyone riding the vehicle unless the roadway was perfectly smooth, like railway tracks, and even the best of the old roadway systems weren't that smooth (assuming they could've handled all that extra weight anyway). If so, that would explain why it wasn't until after the development of rubber and subsequent invention of tires that anyone made wheeled vehicles for fast horseless personal transportation, rather than for animal-drawn transport or hauling.

ETA: Also, going back to what Jadagul said about complementary tech, I don't think even a primitive bicycle would work without a fairly sophisticated gear-and-chain setup, would it?
The chariot was still high technology. It could handle the weight of two or three armored soldiers with some amount of armor themselves at horse speeds, but it was on a straight up-and-down load. The wheels were lightweight and durable and could absorb the shocks of hitting a rock at 20-30mph, but they weren't made for cornering.

As far as I know, anything like rubber wasn't a thing in the Classical world, as it came to the Old World in the Columbian exchange. So 'tires' weren't a thing until probably the 18th Century or so. Without tires, you can't keep enough friction for a lean-to-steer system like bicycles. Hell, skates had ceramic wheels until the '60s or '70s and could only be used on extremely well groomed surfaces. A tiny tiny rock would be catastrophic. It wasn't until someone tried hardened rubber wheels that you could do much with them at all.

So probably wheel tech wasn't there for anything but a wagon-type vehicle, meaning trikes, bikes, scooters, etc, are just not viable.

And wooden bikes aren't a thing either, so yeah my guess is that the other bits required materials tech that wasn't there in the Classical world.
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Re: Human Origins, Historical Oddities, Evolution Etc.

Post by Jadagul »

Yeah, I think bikes need reasonably good metallurgy. And probably rubber? And also gears, and gears are surprisingly hard. Need a lot of precision.
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Re: Human Origins, Historical Oddities, Evolution Etc.

Post by Eric the .5b »

The article I mentioned, which starts with the draisienne, which involved no technology the ancient Greeks didn't have.
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Re: Human Origins, Historical Oddities, Evolution Etc.

Post by Warren »

Jadagul wrote: 25 Apr 2021, 01:57 Yeah, I think bikes need reasonably good metallurgy. And probably rubber? And also gears, and gears are surprisingly hard. Need a lot of precision.
Early velocipedes had neither rubber nor gears. I'm reasonably confident you could make one out of wood/copper/bronze. But at what cost?
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Re: Human Origins, Historical Oddities, Evolution Etc.

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Aresen wrote: 24 Apr 2021, 10:40 Not a 'lost' invention, but one that fell out of use in Europe: Aqueducts.

The Romans built aqueducts everywhere, but they fell out of use in Western Europe after the 5th Century CE. The primary reason seems to be that they require a large organization to build and are very easy for attacking armies to destroy. With the tiny principalities of Western Europe constantly at war with each other, they just could not be maintained. Also, one of the primary reasons that Al-Andalus fell to the Christians in Spain was that the Muslims' superb waterworks kept getting wrecked by the Christians. (I'm looking at you, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar.)

Also, Roman roadbuilding technology was lost, mainly because there was no imperial interest in long-distance travel/communication.

IIRC, when the Renaissance rediscovered Vitruvius' text (from the Muslims), it was a revelation to them.
Concrete example.

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Re: Human Origins, Historical Oddities, Evolution Etc.

Post by JasonL »

Jasper wrote: 26 Apr 2021, 10:20
Aresen wrote: 24 Apr 2021, 10:40 Not a 'lost' invention, but one that fell out of use in Europe: Aqueducts.

The Romans built aqueducts everywhere, but they fell out of use in Western Europe after the 5th Century CE. The primary reason seems to be that they require a large organization to build and are very easy for attacking armies to destroy. With the tiny principalities of Western Europe constantly at war with each other, they just could not be maintained. Also, one of the primary reasons that Al-Andalus fell to the Christians in Spain was that the Muslims' superb waterworks kept getting wrecked by the Christians. (I'm looking at you, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar.)

Also, Roman roadbuilding technology was lost, mainly because there was no imperial interest in long-distance travel/communication.

IIRC, when the Renaissance rediscovered Vitruvius' text (from the Muslims), it was a revelation to them.
Concrete example.

8-)
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Re: Human Origins, Historical Oddities, Evolution Etc.

Post by Warren »

JasonL wrote: 26 Apr 2021, 10:50
Jasper wrote: 26 Apr 2021, 10:20
Aresen wrote: 24 Apr 2021, 10:40 Not a 'lost' invention, but one that fell out of use in Europe: Aqueducts.

The Romans built aqueducts everywhere, but they fell out of use in Western Europe after the 5th Century CE. The primary reason seems to be that they require a large organization to build and are very easy for attacking armies to destroy. With the tiny principalities of Western Europe constantly at war with each other, they just could not be maintained. Also, one of the primary reasons that Al-Andalus fell to the Christians in Spain was that the Muslims' superb waterworks kept getting wrecked by the Christians. (I'm looking at you, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar.)

Also, Roman roadbuilding technology was lost, mainly because there was no imperial interest in long-distance travel/communication.

IIRC, when the Renaissance rediscovered Vitruvius' text (from the Muslims), it was a revelation to them.
Concrete example.

8-)
We take a lot of these things for granite.
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Re: Human Origins, Historical Oddities, Evolution Etc.

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Jadagul wrote: 24 Apr 2021, 14:25 In at least some cases, the tech doesn't go anywhere because it needs complementary tech to be useful.

So like, the Greeks could make a steam engine. But they didn't have the metallurgy to make them at a useful scale. A lot of what Watt did wasn't "hey, we could use steam to move a piston", but solving the engineering challenges in building a thing that actually worked with power at scale. Quality of metal, precision of cylinder engineering, that sort of thing.
Very much this. A great example is screws, and nuts and bolts. The screwdriver is in fact the only simple hand tool to be invented in the last 1000 years. Everything else - saws, hammers, drills, planes, etc. - is much older. But screws, nuts, and bolts require low-cost consistent mass manufacturing to be very useful. It's not that you couldn't make them by hand, but they wouldn't be worthwhile.
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Re: Human Origins, Historical Oddities, Evolution Etc.

Post by thoreau »

Aresen wrote: 24 Apr 2021, 10:40 Not a 'lost' invention, but one that fell out of use in Europe: Aqueducts.

The Romans built aqueducts everywhere, but they fell out of use in Western Europe after the 5th Century CE. The primary reason seems to be that they require a large organization to build and are very easy for attacking armies to destroy. With the tiny principalities of Western Europe constantly at war with each other, they just could not be maintained. Also, one of the primary reasons that Al-Andalus fell to the Christians in Spain was that the Muslims' superb waterworks kept getting wrecked by the Christians. (I'm looking at you, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar.)

Also, Roman roadbuilding technology was lost, mainly because there was no imperial interest in long-distance travel/communication.

IIRC, when the Renaissance rediscovered Vitruvius' text (from the Muslims), it was a revelation to them.
Aqueducts are on the list of things that the Roman's did for us.
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Re: Human Origins, Historical Oddities, Evolution Etc.

Post by D.A. Ridgely »

JasonL wrote: 26 Apr 2021, 10:50
Jasper wrote: 26 Apr 2021, 10:20
Aresen wrote: 24 Apr 2021, 10:40 Not a 'lost' invention, but one that fell out of use in Europe: Aqueducts.

The Romans built aqueducts everywhere, but they fell out of use in Western Europe after the 5th Century CE. The primary reason seems to be that they require a large organization to build and are very easy for attacking armies to destroy. With the tiny principalities of Western Europe constantly at war with each other, they just could not be maintained. Also, one of the primary reasons that Al-Andalus fell to the Christians in Spain was that the Muslims' superb waterworks kept getting wrecked by the Christians. (I'm looking at you, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar.)

Also, Roman roadbuilding technology was lost, mainly because there was no imperial interest in long-distance travel/communication.

IIRC, when the Renaissance rediscovered Vitruvius' text (from the Muslims), it was a revelation to them.
Concrete example.

8-)
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Re: Human Origins, Historical Oddities, Evolution Etc.

Post by lshap »

Well punned, people!
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Re: Human Origins, Historical Oddities, Evolution Etc.

Post by lshap »

So one thing I wanted to share here is the Leakey Foundation podcasts. Most are very very good and contain interviews with current researchers uncovering hominid finds. A few are historical but worth a listen. My favorites:

Historical-

Margaret Mead
Carl Sagan

Current-

Neanderthals
Skin
The Cave Punan
The Denisovans
Violence (my hero Steven Pinker)
The Grandmother Hypothesis
The Evolutionary Arms Race (very topical but pre-Covid)
Detective of the Dead

https://leakeyfoundation.org/originstories/
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Re: Human Origins, Historical Oddities, Evolution Etc.

Post by Eric the .5b »

thoreau wrote: 26 Apr 2021, 11:31
Aresen wrote: 24 Apr 2021, 10:40 Not a 'lost' invention, but one that fell out of use in Europe: Aqueducts.

The Romans built aqueducts everywhere, but they fell out of use in Western Europe after the 5th Century CE. The primary reason seems to be that they require a large organization to build and are very easy for attacking armies to destroy. With the tiny principalities of Western Europe constantly at war with each other, they just could not be maintained. Also, one of the primary reasons that Al-Andalus fell to the Christians in Spain was that the Muslims' superb waterworks kept getting wrecked by the Christians. (I'm looking at you, Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar.)

Also, Roman roadbuilding technology was lost, mainly because there was no imperial interest in long-distance travel/communication.

IIRC, when the Renaissance rediscovered Vitruvius' text (from the Muslims), it was a revelation to them.
Aqueducts are on the list of things that the Roman's did for us.
Not lately.
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