World’s First Computer—I recently ran across a news article that described a unique and mysterious item from antiquity dubbed the Antikythera Mechanism. It’s been around for a while— like 2000 years or more—and was pulled out of a ship’s wreckage off the coast of the Greek Island, Antikythera in the early 1900s. Through the ensuing decades, scholars, scientists, and other brilliant folks have examined, scanned, x-rayed, and scrutinized the bronze unit in an effort to unlock its mysteries. The conclusion—it may very well be the world’s first analogue computer.
With 30 or more gears that interlock and spin, the device reportedly could be used to predict astronomical events such as eclipses and track celestial bodies. Continued research has shown that it even came with instructions. We may never know exactly what the item was created for or who used it, but the similarity to modern computers is fascinating. You can see a replica at the American Computer and Robotics Museum in Bozeman, Montana. Reading about the Antikythera Mechanism got me thinking about the many other present-day inventions that perhaps aren’t so modern after all. Take for example—
Concrete—The Romans are credited with the creation of concrete—a mixture of volcanic ash, limestone, and chunks of brick or volcanic rock. Roman concrete, under the watchful eye of emperor Augustus around 27 B.C., helped to make the architecture splendors that continue standing today like the Colosseum and Pantheon. Along with these tremendous public gathering buildings, the Romans built an impressive network of aqueducts, bridges, and roads. We still pay homage to their construction expertise today with phrases such, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day,’ and ‘All roads lead to Rome.’
Newspaper—Even before Augustus’s construction frenzy took place, Romans were making a name for their culture with the creation of the first newspaper. That is, as long as you use the term newspaper loosely, as the news was inscribed on stone or metal. First emerging around 131 B.C., the Acta Diurna, meaning ‘daily acts’ kept residents in-the-know about local happenings. These news posts included reports on military victories, deaths, births, games, and other interesting, newsy tidbits about citizens. They were attached to columns or signposts in areas with lots of foot traffic—no door-to-door delivery. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘hard copy’, doesn’t it?
Paper & Pen—If the Romans had collaborated with the Egyptians, they might have found a more flexible medium through which to display their daily news. Papyrus paper was being created and used in Egypt as early as 3000 B.C. Naturally growing in abundance along the Nile River, the pith of the papyrus plant was used to make paper. Egyptians soaked the papyrus, mashed and wove strips together, then pressed the material with weights while it dried. Nature proved a great source of creativity for the Egyptians as they also used cut reeds to make pens, using ink made from mixed soot, beeswax, vegetable gum, and other organic materials. Some inscribed and illustrated papyrus sheets are still readable and are preserved for viewing at the Brooklyn Museum and other institutions worldwide.
These are just a few of many fascinating creations from antiquity that comprise our daily lives. Some of my favorites are the oldest known ‘wheels’ – found on miniature toys undoubtedly made for a child—as far back as 7,500 years ago. But that article will have to wait for another time. In the meantime, enjoy your copy of the Sedona Red Rock Newspaper and be thankful, very thankful, that you do not have to trudge down to your nearest mile marker to read it off of a stone tablet.
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