Special Report

Ancient Inventions You Thought Were Modern

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Lighthouse
> When: 5th century B.C.

The first documented lighthouse was established by Athenian general Themistocles, in the harbor of the port city Piraeus. The lighthouse consisted of a column of stone with a fire burning at the peak. Another Greek lighthouse at Sigeion in modern-day Turkey may have been the first that was regularly lit in order to guide ships.

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Clock tower
> When: 50 B.C.

The Athenian Horologium, also called the Tower of the Winds, is an octagonal building erected around 50 B.C. as a timepiece. Each side faces a cardinal or ordinal direction, and the tower originally contained a sundial, a water clock for telling the time in the dark, and a weathervane.

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Steam engine
> When: 100 A.D.

Called an “aeolipile,” or “wind ball,” and considered to be a useless toy, the first working steam engine was designed by Heron of Alexandria. The invention consisted of a covered water cauldron that, when heated, would send steam into a hollow sphere then into two bent exhaust pipes, causing the rotation of the sphere.

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Thermometer
> When: 1st century A.D.

The Jewish Philosopher Philo is credited with inventing the first thermometer, which was a tube attached to a hollow sphere, placed over a basin of water that would displace as the sphere heated or cooled. Around the same time, Heron of Alexandria attempted to quantify temperature with a similar device that could be used in medicine.

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Rocket
> When: 10th century A.D.

The Chinese began using gunpowder to propel arrows during the Song Dynasty. These rockets consisted of rolled paper tubes that were packed with gunpowder and attached to arrows. Although these early rockets were launched by bows, the technology was eventually refined so that the rockets could propel themselves.

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