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Innovation Spotlight: Fun with 8 Ancient Discoveries and Inventions

Dan Spaeth, Senior Managing Partner, IP Advisory

 Humans have been innovating and inventing since the beginning of time, long before the formation of our modern patent systems. At Techson IP, we are fanatical and relentless about science, innovation and patent research. There are thousands of examples of ancient discoveries and inventions which have impacted the course of human history and made life easier for the masses.

Here are some exemplars we found after a little research: 

·      Paper – Over 3,000 years ago, Egyptians were making paper from the papyrus plant. They also invented an early pen and type of ink. Some of their papyrus documents have survived thousands of years. History would be much less known without the ability to write it all down.

·      Concrete – The Romans are believed to have created concrete over 2,100 years ago. They combined limestone and volcanic ash to form a paste and added pieces of stone or volcanic rock to create the basic building blocks for their vast architectural empire. Some of their famous monuments such as the Colosseum survive in part today due to this innovation.

·      Chocolate – Who doesn’t like Chocolate? Produced from Cacao tree beans, this culinary treat is believed to have been used by ancient Mesoamerican civilizations as early as 7,000 BCE. The Maya are said to have worshiped the cacao tree as sacred and the valuable beans could be used as currency. In the 16th century, Spanish explorers brought chocolate back to Europe, much to the delight of many future chefs and generations of consumers. The invention of the Chicago hot dog could very well rank up here too but then we’d have to list Italian beef and pizza too…

·      Fire – or for our purposes, the starting and control of fire – was essential to staying warm in cold weather, cooking, providing light and security, making weapons, baking ceramics and many other uses. When and where we mastered fire is subject to debate but our ability to control fire spans back 300,000 or more years. Thank-you early homo sapiens (Latin for “wise man”). Wonder who melted the first piece of chocolate between a couple of crackers? 

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·      Wine – how can we list chocolate without wine? Consumption of fermented fruit is estimated to go back as early as 100,000 years ago. Ancient Chinese barflies produced wine from rice, honey and fruit around 7000 BCE. The first hangover solution must have come shortly thereafter!

·      Shoes – Imagine surviving in ancient times or even today without shoes! Evidence of shoes has been discovered in American caves dating back 10,000- 12,000 years ago. Some scientists believe shoes changed the form and shape of our feet and toes and have found examples of this tens of thousands of years ago in ancient Chinese caves. Wonder who was the first to put symbols and marks on their footwear?

·      The Keel - The Vikings (also a Scandinavian term for pirate) were legendary ship builders and notorious raiders. In the 7th century they invented the keel – a ship feature enabling increased speed, stability and much longer ocean-going journeys. In retrospect, the keel has been viewed by some as a huge technological breakthrough, an unfortunate one for many European neighbors at the time.

·      The Calendar – Imagine a world without clocks and calendars. An archaeological site in Scotland dating back 10,000 years uncovered an ancient calendaring system, one of the oldest ever discovered. The site included a half a football field sized row of twelve pits which represented the months of the year and the lunar phases of the moon. The design revolved around an arc which partitioned lunar months into three ten-day “weeks.” The whole system tracked an entire year and could be recalibrated based on the winter solstice. Why later inventors didn’t eliminate Mondays and include two Saturdays per week is a mystery to us!

Well, that’s our somewhat random top 8. The list could go on and on, what are your favorite examples? Feel free to share them below.

Better yet, in more modern times, the advent of patent law and inventions such as the automobile, air travel, penicillin, transistor and the “network of networks” or internet have fostered increased rates of innovation and have had huge impacts on our lives and standard of living. What current technologies and inventions do you think future generations will look back on as huge revolutionary changes?

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