Inventions and Discoveries in the ancient world

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Anupama Nair

What is the difference between humans and animals? The answer is simple – the power of thinking. If we didn’t we would have been still like early men and lived in caves still. There would have been no inventions and our lives would have been different. I am going to talk about inventions that changed human lives and made our lives simpler and easy to live

The first major discovery was fire. When humans, first used fire, is still not definitively known, but, like the first tools, it was probably invented by an ancestor of Homo Sapiens (man) as the evidence of burnt material can be found in caves used by Homo Eructus (meaning "upright man") around one million or maybe even one and half million years ago. However, the invention of fire helped men to stop eating raw food and instead, cook it and also keep warm during cold days and nights.

This is a matter of great pride to us Indians. According to historians, the Indus Valley Civilization had revealed the evidence of dentistry being practiced as far back as 7000 BC. One site in Mehrgarh (modern day Pakistan) even showed evidence of healers curing tooth disorders with bow drills. Incredible isn’t it. Another feature of the Indus Valley Civilization was water-flushed toilets. Both in Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, almost every home had a flush toilet, connected to a sophisticated sewage system. Areas of the Indus Valley Civilization in both now-Pakistan and Western India have had rulers (scales) of ivory uncovered from ruins. One such specimen was even calibrated to 1/16 of an inch—less than 2 millimeters. These kinds of rulers were clearly very prominent, as even bricks of the valley’s buildings were found to follow the same measurements. The earliest existence of weighing scales also dates back to the Indus valley civilization, where balances were used to compare measure and compare goods in trade.

The Indian subcontinent was the birth place of Ayurveda and Yoga, around 5000 BC. The therapies generally include complex herbal compounds, minerals and metal substances. Indian physicians were known to practice a different kind of cataract surgery than that was known to the Greeks. It was performed with a tool called the Jabamukhi Salaka, a curved needle used to loosen the lens and push the cataract out of the field of vision. Greek scientists of the time travelled to India to see these surgeries, and the technique was even introduced into China from India.

The wheel is often quoted as the single most important advance in early technology. It is sometimes said to have evolved from the potter’s wheel. Both are first known at approximately the same period, around 3000 BC. But geographical origin of the invention is still not known.
In early technology a wagon wheel can only be made from wood. Several of the earliest known wheels have been found in the heavily forested regions of Europe.

Around 3000 BC, the ancient Egyptians had developed a technique for making paper from the pith of the papyrus plant, commonly seen along the bank of the Nile. Long strips were woven together and weighted down to bind them into a strong, thin sheet. The Egyptians also invented pens made of cut reeds, which were strong enough to write on the papyrus, and mixed soot or other organic material with beeswax and vegetable gum to make ink.

The world’s first university was established in Takshashila in 700 BC. It is estimated that more than ten thousand students from all over world studied more than sixty subjects. The University of Nalanda was built in the 400 BC. The Chinese scholar Hiuen Tsang studied in Nalanda and his writings tell us about the greatness of the University. Unfortunately, the University was burnt by Bakhtiyar Khilji. What a great loss to the world

The word “democracy” comes from the Greek term demokratia, literally meaning “rule by the people.” The word and the concept was introduced in 507 BC by Cleisthenes, ruler of the Greek city-state of Athens. This form of popular government consisted of three separate institutions: the ‘ekklesia’, or Assembly, which wrote laws and dictated foreign policy; the ‘boule’, a council of representatives chosen from the different Athenian tribes; and the ‘dikasteria’, a popular court system. The United States (1776) is the world’s oldest democracy.

Written evidence of martial arts in Southern India dates back to 2nd century BC to 2nd century AD. Kalarippayattu was Indian martial arts system developed in ancient Kerala. It is still very popular. For all its importance, it may surprise you to learn that zero is a relatively recent concept in human history, though it still has its roots in ancient times. The more complete vision of zero didn’t emerge until the 7th century in India, when the Hindu astronomer Brahmagupta wrote rules for using zero in mathematical operations and equations, introducing the concept that zero could be seen as a number of its own.

We Indians need to be proud of our culture and if you read most of the ancient inventions originated in India. In the next part I will talk about in the Middle Ages, and the Modern World

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