Part I: Technology: the Non-Indo-European
Ancient High Civilizations
is little doubt that the basic culture in Sumeria (and later
on, in Babylonia and Assyria), in Egypt, and in the Indus Valley,
in Northern Syria and in Crete, were all non-Indo-European. The
Indo-Europeans were m fact not the creators of the cultures
they subsequently became so indebted to, but rather -- as Vere
Gordon Childe put it 78
-- the destroyers. Certainly this was true in the Indus
Valley where they are first known from history as an organized
body. China makes her great contribution to Indo-European Culture
somewhat later, and can therefore be considered last.
The basic elements of Mesopotamian
civilization in later times when the Babylonians and Assyrians
(both Semitic in origin) had achieved ascendancy, were still
essentially Sumerian. It is pretty well agreed that these Sumerians
were not Semites, being clean shaven and comparatively hairless
like the Egyptians. And from their language it is quite clear
that they were not Indo-European either. Their civilization developed
very rapidly and achieved a remarkable level of technical competence.
In the earliest stages of their history, they seem to have shared
many features with the Indus Valley people who were later overwhelmed
by the Aryans, and with the first settlers in Northern Syria,
and even with the earliest Egyptians. As further development
took place in each of these areas, cultural similarities became
All these cultures seem to spring
into being already remarkably well organized, with skills in
weaving and pottery making, and in the erection of defensive
structures and temple buildings, and with some use of metals
from the first. It is assumed that the Sumerians were organized
into city-states before the Egyptians were, although it was once
held that the oldest centre of civilization was along the Valley
of the Nile. While there is, as yet, no evidence of the Sumerians
without the basic elements of civilization it is believed that
they came from
78. Childe, Vere Gordon, "India and the
West Before Darius," .Antiquity, vol.13, no.49, March,
the North and East, and
it is expected that the origins of these people (and of the Egyptians
and Indus Valley people also) will in due time be discovered
in the general direction of Jarmo, Sialk, etc. What is now fairly
clearly established is that civilization -- the arts and trades
and organized city life, with the division of labour, social
stratification, a leisure class, written records, and so forth
-- began, in so far as the Middle East is concerned, with the
Vere Gordon Chide put it this way:
On the Nile and in Mesopotamia
the clear light of written history illuminates our path for fully
50 centuries; and looking down that vista we already descry
at its farther end ordered government, urban life, writing and
conscious art. The greatest moments -- that revolution whereby
man ceased to be purely parasitic and, with the adoption of agriculture
and stock raising, became a creator emancipated from the whims
of his environment, and then the discovery of metals and the
realization of their properties, have indeed been passed before
the curtain rises.
And T. J. Meek
confirms this by saying: 80
The Sumerian Culture springs into view ready made, and there
is as yet no knowledge of the Sumerians as savages; when we find
them in the 4th millennium B.C., they are already civilized highly.
They are already using metals, and living in great and prosperous
This is not
a study of archaeology strictly speaking, and one cannot therefore
digress into elaborate descriptions of the results of excavation
in the Middle East. It can however be safely stated -- because
easily defended -- that the most surprising aspect of the whole
venture has been the discovery that technical skill seems to
have been remarkably high from the very beginning and to have
been applied in the fields of metallurgy, building, weaving,
agriculture, medicine, art, pottery and ceramics, and transport
(both on land and water) from the earliest times. In fact succeeding
ages did not reach the same high standards as a rule. The problems
of design, basic materials, methods of production in 'quantity,'
control of quality, marketing and cost accounting -- all these
aspects were successfully dealt with in ways that have been very
little improved upon since.
79. Childe, Vere Gordon, New Light on the
Most Ancient East, New York, Kegan Paul, 1935, p.2.
80. Meek, T. J., in a lecture given in the Orientals Department,
University of Toronto, ON, FaIl, 1936.
quotation from Abbott Payson Usher seems appropriate here: 81
this connection it may be well to emphasize the fact that there
is no direct connection between the character of the tools and
mechanisms used and the quality of the craftsmanship. The highest
quality of work has been done with the simplest appliances. Ancient
gem cutting was, on the whole, superior to the modern work. So,
too, periods of technologic advance are not necessarily periods
of improvement, in the style or finish of the work. Many of the
misconceptions of the technique of antiquity are due to the naive
assumption that good work implies elaborate tools and mechanisms
More frequently, technologic
advances merely reduce costs and open up possibilities of a larger
volume of production.
Sumerians knew what percentages of metals to use to achieve the
best alloys, casting a bronze with 9 to 10% of tin exactly as
we find best today; their pottery was often paper-thin, tastefully
shaped and decorated, and with a ring like true china, evidently
having been fired in controlled-atmosphere ovens at quite high
temperatures. Their methods of production led very early to a
measure of automation including powered agricultural equipment
that was in the strictest sense 'mechanical' (Fig. 12).
The control of quality production was
early established by systems of inspection in their factories;
were highly organized, and price controls and wage controls were
established by law. They developed loan and banking companies
where interest rates were outlandish, yet still legally controlled;
their record keeping and postal systems were highly efficient,
mail being carried in envelopes!
This seal impression is identified by Prof. A. Clay as UPMP
II 66, University of Pennsylvania Museum Publications. It is
interpreted by him as a plow. That it is in reality a mechanical
seeder seems clear from the hopper, and the three 'drills.'
In addition the upper classes lived
quite sumptuously, well supplied in many cases with home comforts
and 'all modern conveniences' -- including running water in some
cases, tiled baths, proper disposal of sewage, extensive medical
care, and so forth Even libraries existed, and well organized
schools of course. By comparison their descendants did not sustain
their inheritance, but came to live in that filthy squalor, precarious
poverty and constant threat of disease, which misled earlier
generations of Europeans to suppose mistakenly that they themselves
were the creators of the superior civilization they were enjoying.
The greatness of Egypt today is
'monumental.' Sumerians did not build with stone, for they did
not have it
81. Usher, Abbott Payson, A History of
Mechanical Inventions, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University
Press, 1954, p.154.
in sufficient quantity.
They left another kind of monument -- imperishable written records.
Once these began to be deciphered something of their achievement
became apparent. It is by such means that we know for example
of their mathematics. Dr. T. J. Meek tells us that: 82
Like the Egyptians the
early Sumerian used the additive method to multiply and divide,
but before 2000 B.C. they had evolved multiplication tables and
tables of reciprocals and of squares and cubes, and other powers,
and of square and cube root and the like. They had attained a
complete mastery of fractional quantities and had developed a
very exact terminology in mathematics. The correct value of Pi,
and the correct geometrical formula for calculating the area
of rectangles was known before 3000 B.C. and in the years
that followed came the knowledge of how to find the area of triangles
and circles, and irregular quadrangles, polygons, and truncated
pyramids; also cones and the like. By 2000 B.C. the theorem attributed
to Pythagoras was familiar and they could solve problems involving
equations with 2, 3, and 4 unknowns.
According to one of
the best authorities in this area, they even had developed an
equivalent to our logarithm tables! 83
writing some 20 years later than Meek, could add to this accomplishment
their knowledge that the angle in a semi-circle is a right-angle,
that they could measure the volume of a rectangular parallelepiped,
of a circular cylinder, of the frustum of a cone, and of a square
pyramid. He sums up the achievement thus: 84
and their Babylonian successors left three legacies, the importance
of which cannot be exaggerated: 1) the position concept in numeration
-- this was imperfect because of the absence of zero: 2) the
extension of the numerical scale to sub-multiples of the unit
as well as to the multiples -- this was lost and was not revived
until 15785 A.D. with reference to decimal numbers, and, 3) the
use of the same base for numbers and metrology -- this too was
lost, and not revived till the foundation of the metric system
82. Meek, T. J., "Magic Spades in Mesopotamia",
University of Toronto Quarterly, vol.7, 1938, p.243. 244.
83. Neugebauer, Otto and A. Sachs, Mathematical and Cuneiform
Texts, New Haven, Yale University Press, (for the American
Oriental Society and the American School of Oriental Research),
84. Sarton, George, A History of Science, Cambridge, MA,
Harvard University Press, 1952, pp.73, 74, 99 and 118.
he writes of what we borrowed indirectly from this source:
Many other traces can
be detected in other cultures, even that of our own today --
sexagesimal fractions, sexagesimal divisions of the hours, degrees,
and minutes, division of the whole day into equal hours, metrical
system, position concept in writing of numbers, astronomic tables.
We owe to them the beginnings of algebra, of cartography, and
the greatest surprise of all is to find that the Greeks did not
do so very well transmitting this heritage usefully! Thus Sarton
inherited the sexagesimal system from the Sumerians but mixed
it up with the decimal system, using the former only for sub-multiples
of the unit, and the latter for multiples, and thus they spoiled
both systems and started a disgraceful confusion of which we
are still the victims. They abandoned the principle of position,
which had to be re-introduced from India a thousand years later.
In short their understanding of Babylonian arithmetic must have
been very poor, since they managed to keep the worst features
of it, and to overlook the best. . . .
The Greeks used their intelligence
in a different way and did not see simple [i.e., practical --ACC]
things that were as clear as day to their distant Sumerian and
It might be
thought that if the Sumerians were really practical people they
would have adopted a decimal system from the first, and quickly
abandoned the sexagesimal system. But there is much to be said
for the use of 12 instead of 10 as a base number. Ten has only
two factors: 2 and 5. But 12 has 2, 3, 4, and 6 -- or twice as
many: and in the higher multiples such as 60, the number of factors
is of course greater than the corresponding 20 of the decimal
system. Learning to think in terms of such a system would be
difficult for us now that we are so accustomed to the decimal
system., but there are some highly competent mathematicians who
hold that the change could be made and would be advantageous.
This is a matter of opinion of course, but since we have 10 fingers
the choice of 10 as a base seems more obvious -- and one suspects
therefore that these practical people saw a real advantage in
using 12 instead.
Yet it was purely a practical matter,
and not a theoretical one. The Greeks were more interested in
theory than practice. The contrast between the Sumerian and the
Greek attitude is seen in their treatment of problems
of Astronomy. In this connection,
O. Neugebauer says: 85
A careful analysis of the assumptions
which must be made in order to compute our texts shows nowhere
the need for specific mechanical concepts such as are familiar
to us fro the Greek theory of eccentrics or epicycles, or from
the corresponding planetary models of Tycho Brahe or Kepler.
. . . At no point can we detect the introduction of an hypothesis
of a general character.
Samuel Kramer makes
frequent reference to the fact that the Sumerians were an entirely
practical people, with no urge to search for truth for its own
sake, among whom there was not the slightest tendency either
to theorize or generalize, who sought for no underlying principles,
and undertook n experiments for verification. 86
Sarton gives some illustrations
to show how their mathematics arose out of a practical need,
i.e., business records and transactions. In the same way geometry
reached the Greeks after being developed to satisfy entirely
practical needs of the Egyptians. This is why Thales termed it
Geometry, for it was required originally to measure the land
in order to re-establish property boundaries obscured each year
by the flooding of the Nile. 87
Among the Sumerians and Babylonians,
banking houses sprang up and became the forerunners of world
economics as represented by our international institutions. Two
such Banks are known from cuneiform records by the names of Engibi
and Sons, established about 1000 B.C. and lasting some 500 years,
and Murasha Sons, founded about 1464 B.C. and dissolved finally
in 405 B.C. The latter established a system of mortgaging!88
known to the Sumerians by 2700 B.C., and both they and the Egyptians
were experts in the working of it. 89
For drilling such hard substances they
used diamond drills, or some soft material coated with emery
or corundum. 90
85. Neugebauer, Otto, "Ancient Mathematics
and Astronomy" in A History of Technology, edited
by Charles Singer, et al., Oxford, UK, Oxford University
Press, 1954, \vol.1, p.799.
86. Kramer, Samuel N., From the Tablets of Sumer, Indian
Hills, CO., Falcon's Wing Press, 1956, pp.xviii, 6, 32, 58, 59.
87. Jourdain, Philip E. B., "The Nature of Mathematics"
in The World of Mathematics, edited by James R. Newman,
New York, Simon & Schuster, 1956, vol.1, p.10-13.
88. Reavely, S. D., "The Story of Accounting," Office
Management, April, 1938, p.8ff.
89. Wiseman, P. J., New Discoveries in Babylonia about Genesis,
London, UK, Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 2nd. edition revised,
90. Boscawen, St. Chad, in discussing a paper by Sir William
Dawson, "On Useful and Ornamental Stones of Ancient Egypt,"
Transactions of the Victoria Institute, vol.26, 1892,
tablet found a few years ago is inscribed by a certain Dr. Lugal-Edina,
dated about 2300 B.C., and in it we are told how surgeons of the day had
already learnt to set broken bones, make minor and major incisions and
even attempt operations on the eyes. Sicknesses are given names, and symptoms
carefully noted. Waldo H. Dubberstein of the Oriental Institute of the
University of Chicago, in reporting on this says: 91
One hundred years of exploration
and research in the field of ancient Near Eastern history have
yielded such astounding results that today it is unwise to speculate
on the further capacities and resources of these early people
along any line of human endeavour.
a carefully regulated profession with legally established fees
for various operations and very stiff penalties for failure or
carelessness -- evidently intended to protect the customer and
prevent charlatanism. This certainly suggests that the profession
was not simply a 'School of Magicians.'
Although their buildings have largely
disappeared, they were noteworthy examples of the use of local
materials, i.e., mud-dried brick and reeds. The former are easily
visualized as promising materials; the latter are not. But as
a matter of fact, "reed huts" (mentioned in some of
the very earliest tablets are capable of a surprising beauty
and spaciousness as the accompanying illustrations indicate.
(Fig. 13 and Fig. 14). These are modem examples of course, but
there is every reason to believe that the designs have not greatly
changed through the centuries that intervene. Floor plans as
revealed by excavation indicate similar structures.
Fig. 13 A moderm Reed House in the Marsh Country
of the Lower Euphrates.
91. Dubberstein, Waldo H., "Babylonians
Merit Honour as Original Fathers of Science," Science
News Letter, September 4, 1937, p.148, 149.
the time the Sumerians arrived in Mesopotamia, they had domesticated
as many animals as were ever domesticated in that area, with
the exception of the horse which was tamed by the Hittites --
although they did have a draft animal, a mountain ass. And the
same may be said of grains. N.I.Vavilov always considered that
the Highland Zone to the north and east whence they had come,
was for this reason the most likely home of all such domesticated
plants and animal species as are commonly in use today. He called
it the "Source of Species." 92
Written records appear at the very
earliest levels, and even at Sialk there seems to have been no
period when they were without the use of metals. 93
An exterior view of th 'Reed House' shown in the previous
same story is found to be true of Egypt. Here again there is
no true beginning. The Egyptians, like the Sumerians and the
founders of Tell Halaf, in Northern Syria, appear to have been
culturally creative from the very beginning, and to have developed
their technology exceedingly rapidly. Pastoral societies are
slower to develop, and the Semites who were largely pastoral
contributed little and borrowed much. Indo-Europeans meanwhile
did not even have a word of their own for City, the organization
of urban community life with all that this entails in terms of
civilization did not originate with them. It has been shown that
all their words for City, Town, etc., are loan-words.
with which Egyptian civilization developed was astonishing. P.J.
Wiseman, who has spent a lifetime in the area studying its past
history and closely in touch with the work of archaeologists,
says in this regard: 95
No more surprising fact
has been discovered by recent excavation than the suddenness
with which civilization appeared. . . . Instead of the
infinitely slow development anticipated, it has become obvious
that art, and we may say "science", suddenly burst
upon the world. For instance, H. G. Wells acknowledges that the
oldest stone building known is the Sakkara Pyramid. Yet as Dr.
Breasted points out, "from the Pyramid at Sakkara to the
construction of the Great Pyramid less than a century and a half
Writing of the latter, Sir Flinders
Petrie stated that, "the accuracy of construction is evidence
of high purpose and great capability and training. In the earliest
pyramid, the precision of the whole mass is such that the error
would be exceeded by that of a metal measure on a mild or a cold
day; the error of leveling is less than can be seen with the
The same famous Egyptologist
stated that the stone work at the Great Pyramid is equal to an
optician's work of the present day. 96 The joints of the masonry are so fine as to be scarcely
visible where they are not weathered, and it is difficult to
insert even a knife edge between them.
92. Vavilov, N. I., "Asia the Source
of Species," Asia, vol.37, no.2, February, 1937,
93. Childe, V. G., What Happened in History, Harmondsworth,
UK, Penguin, 1942, p.64.
94. Eisler, Robert, "Loan Words in Semitic Languages
Meaning 'Town'," Antiquity, vol.13, no.52, December,
1939, p.449 ff.
95. Wiseman, P. J., New Discoveries in Babylonia About Genesis,
London, Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 2nd edition, revised, no
date, p. 28, 31, and 33.
96. Petrie, Sir Flinders, The Wisdom of the Egyptians, British
School of Archaeology. Publication No. 63, 1940, p.89.
Gordon Childe, speaking of their earliest earthenware remarks: 97
The pottery vessels, especially
those designed for funerary use exhibit a perfection of technique
never excelled in the Nile Valley. The finer ware is extremely
thin, and is decorated all over by burnishing before firing,
perhaps with a blunt toothed comb, to produce an exquisite rippled
effect that must be seen to be appreciated.
J. Eliot Howard
states that the hieroglyphics of the earliest periods indicate
that pottery, metallurgy, rope making, and other arts and techniques
were well developed,98
and W. J. Perry, quoting De Morgan, says. 99
What appears at a very
early date in Egypt is perfection of technique. The Egyptian
appears from the time of the earliest Pharaohs as a patient,
careful workman, his mind like his hand possessing an incomparable
precision . . . a mastery that has never been surpassed in any
One of the Parthian batteries, as reconstructed from parts found
carved (or ground?) diorite head from Egypt was sold in London
some years ago for the sum of $50,000, and it was considered
by the experts at the time "never to have been surpassed
in the entire history of sculpture."100
It is hard to decide which of these
two civilizations produced the most remarkable metal wares. The
jewelled weapons of their noble dead are simply beautiful and
have to be seen to be appreciated. There are no essential metallurgical
techniques which they had not mastered very early in their history.
These include filigree, mold and hollow casting, intaglio, wire-drawing,
beading, granulation (in water?), welding, inlaying of one metal
with another, sheeting hammered so thin as to be almost translucent,
repousse, gilding on wood and other materials, possibly spinning
of metal, and later -- even electroplating using a form of galvanic
cell catalyzed with fruit juices and housed in a small earthenware
jar. 101 One of
these is illustrated in Fig. 15.
Egyptian medicine will be treated
in a later chapter since both it and mathematics are areas of
human endeavour in which these ancient people achieved much,
yet were clearly prevented from achieving more
97. Childe, V. G., New Light on the Most
Ancient East, New York, Kegan Paul, 1935, p.67, (note 85).
98. Howard, J. Eliot, "Egypt and the Bible," Transactions
of the Victoria Institute, vol.10, 1876, p.345.
99. Perry, W. J., The Growth of Civilization, Harmondsworth,
UK, Penguin, 1937, p.54.
100. Magoffin, Ralph N., "Archaeology Today," The
Mentor, April, 1924, p.6.
101. Reported under the title, "Batteries B.C.", The
Laboratory, vol.25, no.4, 1956, published randomly by Fisher
Scientific Company, Pittsburgh, quoting Willard F. M. Gray of
the General Electric Company's High Voltage Laboratory, in Pittsburgh.
Gray reconstructed these batteries on the basis of archaeological
by reason of a certain attitude
of mind which seems to have been responsible for their failure to develop
the scientific method.
This failure had a fatal consequence.
The high technical competence in so many fields which they developed
rapidly and exploited to our continuing wonderment, halted at
a certain point, maintained itself for a few centuries unchanged,
began to decay rather suddenly, and finally passed out of memory
altogether until it was recovered from the dust of the centuries
by the labours of archaeologists during the past century or so.
Arthur Evan's researches in Crete have revealed the same pattern
of history. 102
The magnificent Palace of Minos with its system of hot and cold
running water, its rooms often decorated with a kind of wallpaper
effect done (as is done today) with a sponge,103 its extraordinary architecture, its beautiful pottery
-- in many cases patterned upon metal prototypes, its highly
organized court life, and its evidence of extensive trade and
commerce overseas -- all these achievements demonstrate clearly
that the craftsmen of the ancient Minoan Empire were in no way
behind the Egyptian and Sumerian in technical competence. Two
sections of their water piping illustrated in Fig. 16. Like the
drainage and sewage systems of the Indus Valley cities of Mohenjo
Daru and Changu Daru, they are equal in effectiveness to anything
we can install today. The underground sewage disposal system
illustrated in Fig. 17, from Northern Syria, is clear evidence
of a highly organized city life that presupposes the same kind
of technical achievement and awareness of the possibilities of
Some details of the plumbing found in the
Palace of Knossos in Crete. It is dated in Middle Minoan I by
Sir Arthur Evans. This would be somewhere about 2000 B.C., or
slightly earlier. The sections are all made of clay, and are
The illustrations are taken from Evans' Palace of Minos,
Macmillan, Vol. I, p.143.
The design of these pipes is based on sound engineering principles.
Turbulence is reduced to a minimum.
102. Evans, Sir Arthur, The Palace of Minos,
London, UK, Macmillan, in 5 vols. beginning publication
103. Painting with sponges: see Bulletin of the Royal Ontario
Museum of Archaeology, no.11, March, 1932, p.7.
to T. J. Meek, the people of Tell Halaf in Syria were never without metals,
and their finely fired pottery "no thicker than two playing card"
and beautifully designed, is equal to the best that the Sumerians produced.104 It is closely parallelled by some
of the earliest pottery found at Susa by de Morgan,105 a city which was closely tied in with
the Sumero-Egyptian Indus-Valley "Archaic Civilization" as W.
J. Perry aptly called it.
In contrast with the sewage
disposal system of modern Syrian towns this ancient 'main sewer'
from Ugarit (or Ras Shamra) looks pretty impressive. It was built
in the 2nd. millennium B.C., and is 9 feet underground, with
room to walk in.
In the streets above, lead
drains like this carried the water into the sewers, and kept
the streets clean and dry. In the photograph, the holes are in
the process of being cleaned out. It is difficult to realize
that this was made and installed 4000 years ago!
104. Meek, T. J., 'The Present State of Mesopotamian
Studies,' in the Haverford Symposium of Archaeology and
the Bible, published by the American Schools of Oriental
Research, New Haven, CT, 1938, p.161.
105. de Morgan: quoted by Spearing, H. G., "Susa, the Eternal
City of the East" in Wonders of the Past, edited
by Sir J. Hammerton, London, Putnam's, 1924, vol.3, p.582.
Roots of Western Civilization
Here, in these
areas, lie the roots of all Western Civilization in its earlier
stages of development. From these centres, sometimes directly,
sometimes indirectly (as via the Etruscans), Europe derived the
inspiration of its culture.
of the Greeks to the Minoans is now fully appreciated. 106 The Minoans had in turn
derived much of their culture from the Egyptians. Some influences
reached Greece directly from Asia Minor. Between these three
sources can be divided almost everything in Greek culture that
has a technical connotation: mathematics, architecture, metallurgy,
medicine, games, and even the inspiration of much of their art
-- all was borrowed from such non-Indo-European sources. Even
their script was borrowed. In fact one might say their very literacy,
for influential figures like Socrates, far from contributing
anything to the art of writing, actually strongly opposed it
as a threat to the powers of memory.
The same is true of Rome. The part
played by the Etruscans in the foundation of Roman Civilization
is immense. Sir Gavin de Beer in a recent broadcast in England
It may seem remote to us [to
ask who the Etruscans were] and yet it affects us closely for
the following reason. We regard the Romans as our civilizers,
and we look up to them as the inventors of all sorts of things
they taught us. But it is now clear that, in their turn, the
Romans learned many of these from the Etruscans.
106. Bibliography on Aegean Pre-history:
Blegen, Carl W., Zygouries: A Prehistoric Settlement in the
Valley of Cleonae, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press,
Bosanquet, R. C., Excavations at Phylakopi in Melos ,
Dinsmoor, W.B., The Architecture of Ancient Greece, London,
UK, Batsford, 1950.
Evans, Sir Arthur, The Palace of Minos, London, UK, Macmillan,
4 volumes, 1921-1935.
Heurtley, W. A., Prehistoric Macedonia, Cambridge, UK,
Cambridge University Press, 1939.
Holmberg, Erik J., The Swedish Excavations at Asea in Arcadia,
Lund, Sweden, Gleerup, 1944.
Mylonas, George, Prehistoric Macedonia: Studies in Honour
of F. W. Shipley, Washington University Series, Language
and Literature, No. 14, 1942, p.55 ff.
Pendlebury, John D. S., The Archaeology of Crete, London,UK,
Seager, Richard B., "Explorations in the Island of Mochlos,"
American School of Classical Studies at Athens, published in
Valmin, M. Natan, The Swedish Messenia Expedition, Oxford,
UK, Oxford University Press, 1938.
Wace, Alan J. B., Prehistoric Thessaly, Cambridge, UK,
Cambridge University Press, 1912.
Weinberg, Saul, "Neolithic Figurines and Aegean Interrelations,"
American Journal of Archaeology, vol.55, April, 1951,
Xanthoudides, Stephanos, The Vaulted Tombs of Mesara,
London, UK, Hodder & Stoughton, 1924.
And, of course, numerous articles on the Linear Scripts, which
have now been deciphered and which originated in Crete, having
been adopted by the Greeks subsequently.
107. de Beer, Sir Gavin, "Who Were the Etruscans?"
in The Listener, BBC, London, UK, Dec., 8, 1955, p.989.
de Beer holds that whatever else might be said about these interesting
people, their language at least was non-Indo-European, and they were not
related either to the Romans or the Greeks. With this, agrees M. Pallottino,
an authority on the Etruscans.108 George Rawlinson, the great Orientalist
and classical scholar says in this respect:109
The Romans themselves notwithstanding
their intense national vanity acknowledged this debt to some
extent and admitted that they derived from the Etruscans their
augury, their religious ritual, their robes and other insignia
of office, their games and shows, their earliest architecture,
their calendar, their weights and measures, their land surveying
systems, and various other elements of their civilization. But
there is reason to believe that their acknowledgement fell short
of their actual obligations and that Etruria was really the source
of their whole early civilization.
To this list
D. Randall Maclver adds their martial organization -- and even
the name of the city itself in all probability. 110
Out of Africa
has come to us far more than just the Egyptian contribution,
even were this not a sufficient one. One does not think of Africa
as particularly inventive. As a matter of fact, however, so many
new things came from that great continent during Roman times
that they had a proverb, "Ex Africa semper aliquid,"
which freely translated means 'There is always something new
coming out of Africa.111
Among other things there came out of Africa "Animal Tales"
from Ethiopia. Edwin W. Smith and Andrew M. Dale point out in
this connection: 112
It might indeed be claimed that
Africa was the home of animal tales. Was not the greatest "literary
inventor" of all, an African, the famous Lokman, whom the
Greeks not knowing his real name called Aethiops (i.e., Aesop)?
Even in medicine
Africans have some remarkable achievements to their credit. To
mention but two: the Pygmies of the Ituri Forest had invented
an enema quite independently of its South American Indian
108. Pallottino, Massimo, The Etruscans,
Harmondsworth, UK, Penguin, 1955, p.46-73.
109. Rawlinson, George, The Origins of the Nations, New
York, Scribner, 1878, p.111.
110. MacIver, D. Randall, "The Etruscans," Antiquity,
vol.1, June, 1927, p.171.
111. Holmyard, E. J., "The Language of Science" (editorial),
Endeavour, vol.4, no.14, April, 1945, p.41.
112. Smith, Edwin W. and Andrew M. Dale, The Ila Speaking
Peoples of Northern Rhodesia, London, Macmillan, 1920, vol.2,
counterpart, 113 and it is known that Caesarean operations
were successfully undertaken in childbirth emergencies before the White
Man had succeeded in doing it. 114
Out of Ethiopia came also coffee. 115 And quite recently African
art has been the 'inspiration' (for good or ill is a matter of
taste) of new forms of art. Very recently a kind of rocking stool,
inspired by an ingenious African prototype, has come into popularity.
Their engineering skill is often
revealed in very simple things. A carrying chair, illustrated
in Fig.18, is so designed that the rider receives the absolute
minimum of jolts and rockings due to the unevenness of the ground.
It is a kind of super-whiffle-tree sling that equalizes the load
and guarantees smooth passage. It is simple and effective and
designed on entirely sound engineering principles of which the
makers were probably hardly aware.
A four-man chair from French Equatoril Africa.
Sandaled Moslem Porters Carry Ill and Aged Hindus on the Tortuous
As a further witness to the same
kind of genius for simplified construction an African loom is
shown in Fig.19. It makes the most effective use possible of
locally available raw materials, and in fact uses their actual
form to the best advantage.
113. Coon, C. S., A Reader in General Anthropology,
New York, Henry Holt, 1948, p.340
114. Ackerneckt, Erwin, "Primitive Surgery", American
Anthropologist, New Series, vol.49, Jan.- Mar., 1947, p.32.
115. Anonymous, "The Story of Coffee" in The Plibrica
Firebox, vol.22, July - Aug., 1948, p.4, 5.
every African community of any size has its own smelting furnace
and smithy. No part of this iron working art has been borrowed
from Europe. The whole process (and the refinements found in
some cases) is a native invention. The bellows used to increase
the oxygen supply and thereby the heat at the hearth, are of
native design and manufacture and are very varied in form. The
pipes which convey the air into the furnace are also home made.
Suitable clay is plastered around pieces of wood of the proper
size and shape (whether curved, straight, or even forked), and
then the whole is burned in a fairly hot fire. This reduces the
wooden insert to ashes and leaves the desired pipe form, shaped
and baked all ready for use. When the ore has been reduced and
the metal is removed from the dismantled furnace it is worked
by hand. The metal may be hammered into sheet, drawn into wire,
or forged into other forms such as vessels, blades, etc., as
desired. It is not surprising that we, having largely learned
from Africa the basic techniques of iron-working, should refer
to our iron metalworkers as Blacksmiths. R. J. Forbes says that
although today African smiths often obtain their raw materials
from European sources, the Negro smiths "are very ingenious
craftsmen in inventing and using new tools and types of bellows".
A native loom whose design is common to many parts of
and which uses only those materials available in the neighbourhood.
From A History of Mechanical Inventions,
Abbott P. Usher, Harvard University Press, 1954.
116. Forbes, R. J., Metallurgy in Antiquity,
Leiden (NL), Brill, 1950, p.64.
N. Kramer has recently published a volume resulting from a lifetime
of cuneiform studies which he
titles From the Tablets of Sumer, and his subtitle takes
the following form: Twenty -five Firsts of Man's Recorded
It is an impressive collection of "firsts", yet one
will feel at times that he has introduced a few cases which are
only rightly termed so, by a kind of special pleading. But on
the whole his collection shows that their inventiveness was by
no means limited to mechanical things, but applies equally well
to certain forms of literature -- and indeed to the very idea
of collecting libraries, writing histories, and cataloguing books
Among the literary achievements
of the Egyptians are to be listed what was surely the first 'moving-picture'
sequence, 118 and
the first Walt Disney Cartoon. 119. Gloves and camp stools are found first in Crete,
120 soap in Egypt,
121 virtually all
carpenter's tools (saws, squares, bucksaws, brace and bit, etc.)
from the Etruscans 122
-- with a novel brace and bit, 123 and the 'level' from Egypt. 124 The Etruscans invented lathes. 125 The Egyptians
built a pipe-organ using water to obtain a uniform air pressure
Folding umbrellas and sun-shades were first designed in China
127 and were not
introduced into England until centuries later where the introducer
apparently almost lost his life! The Sumerians used straws for
drinking with, 128 (shown in Fig 20), and bequeathed to their
successors chariot wheels which were made of plywood using exactly
the same technique for the manufacture of it as we use today.
129 Africans were
using vaccines long before the White
Fig. 20 Sumerians, drinking from Straws.
117. Kramer, Samuel N., From the Tablets
of Sumer, Indian Hills, CO, Falcon's Wing Press, 1956.
118. "A Cinematograph Touch in Ancient Egyptian Art: Wall-paintings
that Suggest Moving Pictures", reproduced from P. E. Newberry's
"Beni Hasan" in the Illustrated London News,
Jan.12, 1929, p.50,51.
119. Hambly, Wilfrid D., "A Walt Disney in Ancient Egypt"
in a Letter to the Editor of 'animated animal figures' behaving
like people! [Scientific Monthly, October, 1954, p.267-8
120. Gloves and camp stools: see Axel Persson, The Religion
of Greece in Prehistoric Times, Berkeley, CA, University
of California, 1942, p.77.
121. Soap: see on this Rendel Harris, "Soap" in the
Sunset Papers, published privately in England, 1931.
122: Tools: see George M. A. Hanfmann, "Daidalos in Etruria",
American Journal of Archaeology, vol.39, April - June,
123. Brace and bit: an illustration of this is given in The
Illustrated London News [April 12, 1930, p.623] in a series
of articles by G. H. Davis and S. R. K. Glanville entitled "Life
in Ancient Egypt: Astonishing Skill in Arts and Crafts."
124. Levels: see George Sarton, A History of Science,
Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1952, p.124, footnote
125. Lathes: see A History of Technology, edited by Charles
Singer, et al., Oxford University Press, 1954, vol.1,
126. Apel, Willi, "Early History of the Organ," Speculum,
vol.23, 1948, p.191-216.
127. Umbrellas and Sunshades: a number of bronze castings used
in the construction of these large umbrellas are to be
seen in the Royal Ontario Museum Toronto, Canada.
128. Drinking straws: well known from the monuments and from
seals. The line drawing in Fig. 20 is probably from a
129. Linton, Ralph, The Tree of Culture, New York, Knopf,
Man adopted the measure: 130
and there is a record of the invention of a malleable
glass, the secret of which was destroyed by the ruling monarch, along
with its originator, for fear of upsetting the economy. 131
Every form of building technique now commonly used (including
concrete) is found among non-Indo-Europeans, and in many cases
long antedating the Romans, especially the arch, barrel vault,
dome and cantilever principle of construction. The barrel vault
was achieved in Babylon without the need of a supporting scaffold
under it, by starting against an upright wall, which was later
removed. The cantilever principle was used by the Egyptians (among
others) in strengthening their larger seagoing vessels to prevent
them from 'breaking their backs,' as marine engineers term it.
One such vessel is shown in Fig.21. Speaking of boats, James
Hornell, an authority on water craft as developed by primitive
and ancient people, opens a paper on the subject with these words:
There can be no doubt
that to Asiatic ingenuity we owe the beginnings of the world's
principle types of Water Transport. Early man in Asia invented
means of extraordinary diversity to enable him to cross rivers,
An Egyptian sea-going vessel from the tomb of Sahure, c. 2700
B.C., showing the rope tensioner
stretched from one end to the other, supported on a brace at
the centre, and tightened with a torsion bar member
on sound engineering principles.
illustrated or referred to include every type of small craft
from mere floats to coracles and large outrigger sailing vessels,
etc. If we bear in mind that China gave us the stern-post rudder,
and watertight compartment construction, as well as canal locks
for inland waterways,133
and that the Koreans built the first true battleship, with iron
cladding -- notwithstanding the claims made for 'Old Ironsides'
in Boston Harbor, it will be seen that we have not contributed
a great deal basically to marine engineering. Isabella L. Bishop
says of this Korean warship, that it was named Tortoise Boat,
and was "invented by Yi Soon Sin in the 16th century, enabling
the Koreans to conquer the great Japanese General Hideyoshi in
Naphtha gas was first used
by the Sumerians,135
eye salves in multiple tubes probably by the same
130. Vaccines: see Melville Herskovits, Man
and His Works, New York, Knopf, 1950, p. 246.
131. Malleable glass: the details of this are given by Stanko
Miholic, "Art Chemistry," Scientific Monthly,
vol.63, December, 1946, p.460.
132. Hornell, James, "Primitive Types of Water Transport
in Asia: Distribution and Origins," Journal of
Royal Asiatic Society, London,1946, Parts 3 and 4, p.124-141.
133. Needham, J. Science and Civilization in China, Cambridge
University Press, 1954, vol.1, p.240-243.
134. Article by Isabella L. Bishop, "Koreans," in the
Encyclopedia Britannica, 14th edition, 1937, vol.13, p.489,
135. Naphtha Gas: as we have already mentioned, the Chinese piped
this gas as early as 450 B.C. But it was also used by the Babylonians
for divination purposes according to R J. Forbes, ("Chemical,
Culinary, and Cosmetic Arts," A History of Technology,
edited by Charles Singer, et al, Oxford, UK, Oxford University
Press, vol.1, 1954, p.251). It is said to have been used by the
Sumerians probably, in furnaces for heating metals (R. J. Forbes,
Metallurgy in Antiquity, Leiden, Netherlands, Brill, 1950,
people,136 and spray-painting by palaeolithic man!137 Cigarettes were known to the North
American Indians long before Europeans had even heard of tobacco:138
spectacles are probably a Chinese invention:139 and safety pins came from the Etruscans.140 The Chinese did many things with glass,
for according to Bruno Schweig there is evidence of glass mirrors as early
as 2000 B.C.:141 and although the source of my information here is not the best,
there is a reference to the first 'windows' of glass in a collection of
Chinese Stories. It is said that in the reign of Emperor Ming, a man named
Wing Dow invented a 'device' which he called Looking-through-the-Walls,
whence it is claimed we now derive our word Window, being a corruption
of the inventor's name.142
Although the abacus seems a very
slow and primitive way of making calculations, recent experiments
undertaken by experts in both the ancient instrument and the
modern electrically operated comptometer, have shown that in
the hands of a skilled operator it can hold its own against all
mechanical devices (excluding computers), except in one particular
type of calculation.143
136. Eye salves: Forbes, R. J., in A History
of Technology, edited by Charles Singer, et al., Oxford
University Press, 1954, vol.1, p.293
137. Spray painting: Leakey, L.S.B., in 'A History of Technology,
edited by Charles Singer, et al., Oxford University Press,
1954, vol.1, p.149. This is possibly begging the point a little!
It is assumed from the nature of certain paintings that they
were done by blowing (or splattering)
the paint from the mouth (!) using baffles to limit it as required.
Certainly it does seem to have been sprayed, somehow.
138. Cigarettes: see note, under the title "The Sacred Cigarette."
It is reported that thousands have been found in cave-shrines
as native offerings in Arizona (in section "Far and Near,"
Discovery, vol.19, no.6, June, 1958, p.262). We have already
mentioned cigar-holders: and of course, the Indians were the
originators of the pipe for smoking tobacco.
139. Spectacles: see Ethel J. Alpenfels, anthropologist with
the Bureau for Intercultural Education, in an article entitled
"Our Racial Superiority," abstracted in The Reader's
Digest, September, 1946, p.81, from Catholic World,
July, 1946, p.328 ff.
140. Safety pins: illustrated in Antiquity, June, 1927,
p.170 in an article by D. Randall MacIver, "The Etruscans."
141. Mirrors: Schweig, Bruno, "Mirrors," Antiquity,
vol.15, no.59, September, 1941, p.259.
142. Windows: see Phyllis R. Feuner, Giants, Witches, and
a Dragon or Two, New York, Knopf, 1943, p.185.
143. Abacus: these experiments were reported as a note, in the
Magazine His, (Chicago, IL, IVF publication. Oct., 1957),
under the title "Misplaced Conceit." (no page numbering
in this section).
du Nouy, after a backward look at the 'rostrum of ingenuity'
which meets the eye from antiquity, expresses the conviction
does not seem to have increased radically in depth during the
last 10,000 years. As much intelligence was needed
to invent the bow and arrow, when starting from nothing, as to
invent the machine gun, with the help of all anterior inventions.
is well taken, and one demonstration of the wisdom of this observation
is that the experts find it quite impossible to determine now,
how the first bow ever came to be invented. Their reconstructions
are as varied as can be: which tends to show that such a weapon
would certainty not, as it were, occur easily to its originator
if we cannot even imagine how it originated with one right in
front of us.
144. du Nouy, Comte, Human Destiny, New
York, Longmans Green, 1947, p.139.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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