10 Technologies that became lost in time

Technology’s advancements continually amaze us, leaving us to always believe that things are much more shocking and amazing that they have ever been. However there are examples of technologies that have been lost in the past that no one has been able to reproduce. Here are a few examples.

GREEK FIRE

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A still shot from the game “Assassins’ Creed: Revelations” showing the protagonist using a Greek Fire incendiary weapon on a ship (photo courtesy TV Araj)

In the 7th century AD, the Byzantine empire, the eastern wing of the Roman Empire, became under siege by Arab Muslims under the leadership of the Rashidun and Umayyad caliphs. These sieges lasted until the 11th century, with the predecessors taking up the mantle, all gazing their attention on Constantinople, the capital city of the Byzantine empire. To combat the attacks the Byzantines developed Greek Fire, which they originally called “Sea Fire”. Greek Fire (it was so-called because the Byzantines spoke predominantly Greek) was a special liquid concoction which was mixed and placed under great heat and pressure before being delivered via a specialized gun aboard a ship. It was also administered by hand-held projectors called Cheirosiphons and was also stored in and thrown as grenades. After heat and pressure were added, the concoction produced shooting flames which would project from the projector towards the enemy at distances of 50 ft or more, producing flames with temperatures exceeding 1000° C (1830° F). What was more amazing was the fact that these flames could travel over water without being extinguished or affected in any way. Although suggestions such as Petroleum, Quicklime, Sulphur and even Niter (the mineral form of Potassium nitrate) have been made, it still remains a mystery as to the exact components of the mixture.

DAMASCUS STEEL

A possible similarity to Damascus steel; a sword containing Damask bands in its metallic composition (photo courtesy keyshot.com)
Damascus steel was a type of metal alloy that was developed in the Middle East using wootz imported from Southern India and Sri Lanka from around the 3rd century AD to the 17th century AD. They were characterized by patterns of banding and mottling, giving it an aesthetic similar to the flow of water. These bands were sometimes referred to as Damasks in reference to Damask fabrics which contain similar patterns and which are made in Damascus, the capital city of modern-day Syria.These blades were known for their toughness and resistance to shattering. They were also discovered to contain networks of carbon nano-tubes and nano-wires which not only increased their strength but also gave them a high level of plasticity. They were often described as super-plastic, further enhancing their resistance and their effectiveness. Unfortunately, the precise method of producing this type of steel was lost as a result of various factors such as the breakdown of trade routes, the loss of knowledge due to increased secrecy, and the  suppression of the industry in India by the British.

THE ANTYKYTHERA MECHANISM

The largest fragment of the mechanism – labelled “Fragment A”- on display at the National Archaeology Museum, Athens, Greece (photo courtesy wikipedia.com)

In July 1901, an exploration of a shipwreck off the coast of the Greek island of Antykythera was made. A wooden box was found among the wreckage and inside the wooden was a device that reshaped modern perception of ancient technology. The device was called “the Anthykythera Mechanism”. When it was discovered it was one large clump, with its once easily identifiable parts calcified into one stone-like object. However, recent scientific works have made it possible to separate the parts for closer observation.  Upon careful observation the mechanism was seen to be an analogue computer, with carbon dating setting its formation to the period between 205 BC and 100 BC. It is believed that is was made by Greek scientists who created the device from over 30 (known) meshing bronze gears for the purpose of predicting astronomical positions eclipses for astronomical and calendar-forming processes. It was also used to calculate Olympiads, the periods in which the ancient Olympic games would occur, and it also is thought to have acted as an Orrery, a device that shows a model of the solar system and the precise orbital patterns of the planets around the Sun. It is unknown as to what specific period in time the technology was lost, but similar technology was not developed again until the 14th century AD in Europe. However, these devices were developed as astronomical clocks and fell short of fulfilling the number of processes that the original Anthykythera Mechanism conducted.

STRADIVARIUS STRINGS

Stradivarius violin on display at the Royal Palace, Madrid, Spain (photo courtesy bitlanders.com)

“Stradivarius” refers to the stringed instruments (primarily violins, violas and cellos) that were developed by the Stradivari family of Italy during the 17th and 18th centuries AD. The violins and strings, in particular, were described as producing a sound that none could be compared to. This however has been deemed as subjective as many scientific tests that were conducted to compare the sound of Stradivarius strings and modern strings have shown that the difference isn’t as significant as thought. Nevertheless, the instruments are held in high regard, with Stradivarian stringed instruments worth millions of US dollars in today’s market. The precise technology of producing the strings has been lost, resulting in increased “wonderment” as to what components could have come together with such harmony to produce such a world-renowned instrument.

SLOOT DIGITAL CODING SYSTEM

Jan Sloot (second from left) seen here with Phillips executives (photo courtesy telcomsoft.nl)      

Romke Jan Bernhard Sloot, a Dutch electronics technician, designed a system in the early 1990’s entitled “the Sloot Digital Coding System”. According to the Sloot, the new coding system would be able to conduct immense compression procedures, specifically using the example of its ability to compress a feature-length film down to only 8 kilobytes (KB). The He was offered a contract from the company Phillips and was shown as a potential subject for many of the company’s investors. In a trial run before investors, Sloot was able to play 16 feature-length films from a 64 KB chip. However, Sloot died of a heart attack (some presume the cause of death isn’t really known) on September 11, 1999, just two days before his deal with Phillips was to be materialized. Although attempts were made by the company to reproduce the program, a key component, which was a compiler program that was stored on a floppy disk, went missing. Without that compiler, the Sloot Digital Coding System became lost in time.

MITHRIDATIUM 

An elaborate jar used to contain Mithridatium

In the 1st century BC (between 134 and 63 BC) Mithridates IV, King of Pontus (now northern Turkey) created a concoction that was comprised of 65 different ingredients, mixed and blended with such precision that even when the ingredients were copied from the original hand-written text by Mithridates himself, the exact substance was not reproduced to its former effectiveness. It was created by Mithridates after he became fearful of his mother, whom he suspected poisoned his father and was intent on poisoning him to capture the throne of Pontus. Legend has it that he went on a self-imposed journey into the wilderness, consuming different poisons and allowing his body to become resistant to them, while experimenting with various herbs that eventually helped curb the different poisonous effects. Legends also stated that Mithridates used the substance so much that even when he wanted to commit suicide he wasn’t able to poison himself. He therefore had to ask one of his guards to pierce him with their sword. Whether the legends are true or not, the substance’s effectiveness was true. Over time the drug lost its ability to defend against varying forms of poison as alterations were continually made to its components and their respective measurements.

STARLITE

Maurice Ward (deceased), inventor of Starlite (photo courtesy The Times Newspaper)

Maurice Ward, an English inventor, designed a material that received immense popularity in the late 1970’s, 80’s and early 90’s. The material was given the name “Starlite” by his granddaughter and was labelled as a material that had incredible thermal conductivity characteristics. During tests, it was claimed that the material was able to withstand temperatures in excess of 10,000° C produced by a laser beam. It was even estimated to withstand temperatures in excess of that which can be produced from 75 atomic bombs similar to what hit Hiroshima, Japan during World War II. Organizations, such as NASA, approached Ward in obtaining the material to conduct tests on them. Although Ward allowed them to conduct the tests he never let the samples go out of his possession in the fear that they can be reversed engineered. Since he saw it as a material that would be worth billions of dollars he demanded that he retain 51% of the ownership of the formula. This, however, was claimed to be the reason behind the material’s inability to be commercialized. Upon Ward’s death in 2011, the formula became lost as Ward kept it to himself, only revealing it to his family, who they themselves were unable to reproduce a sample.

THE CLOUD BUSTER

Reich with one of his Cloud Busters (photo courtesy wikipedia.com)

The Cloud Buster, invented by Austrian scientist Wilhelm Reich, is a device that, in general, defies the known laws of science. It is said that it targets orgone energy in the atmosphere to produce rain. Orgone energy, first proposed by Reich in the 1930’s, is a hypothetical universal life force which controls various life processes. In this case, the Cloud Buster was created as a device that Reich described as being able to alter the levels of Atmospheric orgone, resulting in the production of clouds and rain. In 1953, Blueberry farmers in Maine, US, offered to pay Reich if he could have helped produce rain for their blueberries after they had experienced lengthy periods of drought. After setting us the device, the next day, huge showers of rain fell, to which many described as only “a coincidence”. The device consisted of long metallic tubes positioned diagonally, pointing to the sky, with the remainder (base) of the machine earthed and connected to a supply of water (the water was said by Reich to collect orgone from the atmosphere). Reich was imprisoned and all his work destroyed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration after they concluded that it could potentially open the possibility for man to tamper with the weather, to which many might use it to their advantages, which can also be to the disadvantage of others.

TESLA’S DEATH RAY

Could Tesla’s Death Ray have been a possibility? (photo courtesy viralnova.com)

Nikola Tesla, though not as renowned as other scientists, has revolutionized science, specifically in the areas of the usage and manipulation of electricity. Tesla, a Serbian-American, designed many experiments and received various patents, most notably for inventing Alternating Current (AC), the Electric Motor, Lasers, the Remote Control, and even the Radio (the U.S. Supreme Court issued the patent to him in 1943 after it was proven that Tesla invented the Radio in 1893, 10 years before Guglielmo Marconi’s famous 1904 patent). However, one of Tesla’s most mysterious inventions is the Tesla Death Ray. This was a theoretical electromagnetic, particle beam weapon, developed by Tesla and a group of scientists to act as a military offensive mechanism, particularly against enemy planes. It was said that the device had the capacity to destroy 10,000 enemy planes while they were in flight up to 250 miles away. However, Tesla died before the Death Ray could be built and he left no documented plan of it….that we know of.

THE APOLLO/GEMINI SPACE PROGRAM TECHNOLOGY

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The official insignia of the Apollo Space Program conducted by NASA (photo courtesy NASA)

Project Gemini represented a pivotal part in scientific discovery. It was the Litmus test that proved whether or not NASA could have conducted a mission to the Moon. A total of 12 Gemini missions were conducted which tested factors such as man’s ability to walk in space, how long a man can spend in space and how well were they able to connect to space crafts. Its predecessor was the Mercury project. The Gemini project consisted of sending a capsule in space with the capacity for holding two people (hence the name “Gemini” which referred to “twins” or “two people”). The skills that were learnt then assisted the already existing Apollo mission, which ran from 1961 to 1972 and was successful in landing man on the Moon for the first time in history. However, there is a fact that must be considered; the success of the space program also came about through competition with the then U.S.S.R. The Americans and the Russians during the 1950’s and the 1960’s were in a seriously contested space war. Russia achieved the task of becoming the first country to place a man in space but the United States wanted to take their achievement to Lunar heights. The pace at which the program was conducted led to frantic building processes and very poor sessions of proper record keeping and plan drafting. Also, many of the projects incorporated private contractors who simply moved on with their work and ideas after the completion of the projects. This has proven itself a problem today as proper schematics of the design of the space vehicles and technology used are not present, leading NASA to resort to reverse engineering currently existing residual parts from that era. In time one can be certain that the solution would be found but having those original records around just might have eased some headaches.

These are only but a few of the Lost Technologies with many discoveries still to be made. In reality, only time truly will tell.

 

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