Sunday, April 23, 2017

What about Ancient Technology? – Part I

It is interesting to note that only a few decades ago, the people of ancient civilizations were viewed as simple, primitive people. However, numerous discoveries since then have revealed a number of surprising facts about ancient cultures, namely that many of them possessed advanced knowledge of metallurgy, mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, and more.
An ancient Damascus Steel sword

    With this knowledge they forged steel stronger than anything else seen until the Industrial Revolution, created a recipe for concrete so durable that their buildings would endure for millennia longer than the constructions of today, cut stones and assembled walls so precisely that attempts at modern-day replications have failed. Scientists are still scratching their heads over some of the amazing accomplishments of ancient civilizations.
    It should also be noted that such ancient technology was found in and around Jerusalem and Mesopotamia about the time of Lehi, yet none ever showed up in North America in any way. Yet, such has been found in abundance in Andean South America, and to a lesser degree, in Mesoamerica.
    Consider, as an example, the art of making steel, which has been criticized for its being mentioned in the Book of Mormon by so many unknowing and ill-informed critics. Over 2,500 years ago, ancient people in the Levant were forging swords made of steel so advanced that blacksmiths would not come close to creating anything of equal quality until modern times. The metal was so strong that the swords could slice straight through objects made of other metals.
    The steel, known as Damascus steel, which is a steel made with a wavy surface pattern produced by hammer-welding strips of steel and iron followed by repeated heating and forging, used chiefly for knife and sword blades. While such items were often marketed in Damascus, they were not necessarily made there. According to Arnold Pacey (Technology in World Civilization: A Thousand-year History, MIT Press, 1991, p80), an Associate Lecturer at the Open University in Britain, and author of numerous books published by the MIT Press, Damascus steel was a type used for manufacturing sword blades in the Near East made with wootz steel.
An ancient legendary Uifberht blade made from crucible Wootz steel

    Such steel is a crucible type characterized by a pattern of bands, which are formed by sheets of micro carbides within a tempered martensite or pearlite matrix in higher carbon steel, or by ferrite and pearlite banding in lower carbon steels. It is the pioneering steel alloy matrix developed in Southern India in the 6th century B.C. and exported globally. It was also known in the ancient world by many different names including Wootz, Ukku, Hindvi Steel, Hinduwani Steel, Teling Steel and Seric Iron, and considered the finest steel in the world. It  was exported as cakes of steely iron that came to be known as "Wootz, which was widely exported and traded throughout ancient Europe and the Arab world, and became particularly famous in the Middle East (Charlotte Speir Manning, Ancient and Medieval India, Vol 2, Adegi Graphics , 1999).
    It might be of interest to know that Dr. Oleg Sherby, Dr. Jeff Wadsworth, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have all attempted to create steels with characteristics similar to Wootz, but without success. J.D Verhoeven and Al Pendray reconstructed methods of production, proved the role of impurities of ore in the pattern creation, and reproduced Wootz steel with patterns microscopically and visually identical to one of the ancient blade patterns. There are other smiths who are now consistently producing Wootz steel blades identical to the old patterns; however, it is not a correct representation of the blades that survive today or the accounts of witnessed methods from antiquity. Not all of the secrets of Wootz have been discovered, but it has essentially been recreated by Anosov, Pendray and many smiths in the 20th century, though research continues (Sharada Srinivasan, "Wootz crucible steel: a newly discovered production site in South India,” Papers from the Institute of Archaeology, University College London (5), 1994, pp49–59).
An ancient Damascus steel short sword with an unusual distinctive bone handle (made for an ancient Middle East sheik)
    Such swords were characterized by distinctive patterns of banding and mottling reminiscent of flowing water. Such blades were reputed to be tough, resistant to shattering and capable of being honed to a sharp, resilient edge, and were produced out of a raw material, imported from Asia. Other materials were added during the steel's production to create chemical reactions at the quantum level. It was first used around 600 B.C., but was produced en masse in the Middle East between 1100 and 1700 AD. The secret of making modern Damascus steel, has only re-emerged under the inspection of scanning electron microscopes in modern laboratories.
    Secondly, consider aqueducts and hydro technology of the ancients, particuarly in Andean South America, where in recent years Peru has been facing a severe water crisis as chronic problems, such as polluted water supplies, and environmental change combine to undermine the water security of the entire country. However, a new plan has been put forward by Lima's water utility company, Sedapal, to “revive an ancient network of stone canals that were built by the very early Peruvian culture in order to supply the population with clean, unpolluted water.”
These early Peruvians  built an advanced water conservation system that captured mountain water during the rainy season in canals, which then transported the water to places where it could feed into springs further down the mountain, in order to maintain the flow of the rivers during the dry season. Of course, many ancient civilizations are known for their advanced construction of cisterns, canals, aqueducts, and water channeling technology, including the Persians, Nabataeans, Romans, Greeks, Harrapans and many more.
    Still another ancient skill that was not re-invented until modern times was the technique of ancient road-building first achieved by the ancient Peruvians as well as the Romans, independently of one another.
    Qhapaq Nan, otherwise known as the Main Andean Road in Peru, is a huge network of highways and roads once used by early Andean cultures in Peru long before the Inca came to power, who themselves later used these roads to quickly conquer much of the known western South American peoples. Extending over 25,000 miles, it was the backbone of the Inca Empire's political and economic power, moving their conquering armies quickly into battle across a wide-spread area. Earlier, the roads connected production, administrative, and ceremonial centers of early Peruvian civilization. Extending across what is now Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, these roads had two north-south highways with over 20 other secondary roads, and numerous small branches.
    Crossing plains, deserts, and mountains, these well-build roads included bridges, causeways, stairways, and also had small stations and sometimes larger, more luxurious complexes dotted along every twelve miles where travelers could spend the night. Undaunted by geographical difficulties, these early Peruvian engineers built roads across ravines, rivers canyons, sand deserts, high mountain passes, along cliff facings, and mountain edges.
A road built along a high cliff face. In the middle (center arrow) the road had removable wooden planks that could be pulled aside in order to keep an invading army or force from advancing along the cliff road

    The width of most roads varies from three-and-a-half to ten feet, although some could be much bigger, such as the fifty feet wide highway in the Huanuco Pampa province. Sometimes there are also two or three roads constructed in parallel, especially near the larger urban centers. Flattened road beds, often raised, were usually made using packed earth, sand, or grass. The more important roads were finished with precisely arranged paving stones or cobbles. Roads were typically edged and protected with small stone walls, stone markers, wooden or cane posts, or piles of stones. Drainage was provided by frequent drains and culverts, which drew off rainwater from the road surface, channeling it either along or under the road. When crossing wetlands, roads were often supported by buttress walls or built on causeways. Bridges of stone or reeds were also constructed to cover distances in a more direct route as were large, stone, llama-friendly staircases in mountainous terrain.
    Generally, and despite their reputation for Roman-like long straight roads, these Peruvian roads tended to follow natural contours as the straight stretches of road are rarely more than a mile or two long. It is also noteworthy that Inca roads are very often more elaborate and well-constructed than was actually necessary.
One of the most impressive fetes and showcases for ancient Peruvian engineering must have been the many rope suspension bridges which crossed perilous ravines. These were built using braids of reed or grass rope with wooden and fiber flooring. Perhaps the most famous crossed the Apurimac River near Cuzco and measured 150 feet in length. Suspension bridges were often built in pairs perhaps with one bridge for commoners and one for nobles. An alternative to such bridges was the oroya, a suspended basket which transported two or three people at a time over a greater distance than could be reached with a rope bridge.
(See the next post, “What about Ancient Technology? – Part II,” for more on the ancient technologies of the Nephite era and where they are found in the Americas)


  1. Great stuff, Del.

    Still waiting for a reference on your "land of many waters" claim on old maps of Ecuador, though.

    A link, name, or reference citation is all.

    Thanks! :-)

  2. I was trying to find my notes on it,but have been unable to do so. When I was working with Art Kocherhans, before his 2nd wife curtailed his interactions and research exchange with others, he showed me a map sent to him by a missionary in Ecuador, who he had asked to look for any old maps he could come across while on his mission. He sent him one that was in Spanish that was labeled Land of Many Waters in the area a little south and west of Quito and claimed to be a translation of an original Quechuan map. It is in the area today labeled the “lagoons of Ozogoche” or the “Ozogoche Lakes,” in the center of the highlands of Ecuador, and important because their waters feed the Pastaza River, which flows into the Amazon River. Art did the research on it, I wasn't allowed any more than to see the map. In addition to that, I ran across an old map in Spanish where the area north of Quito along the Colombia border was labeled "Many Waters." Venice Priddis refers to this area as the Lake District (Imbabura), claiming it rivals the famous lake district of northern England. This area floods over during the rainy season and several rivers run together, forming the area she called Ripliancum, particularly along the Mira River. Of the two I have always leaned toward the former, south of Quito because of the enormous waters there year round, of numerous lakes, springs, rivers, and 327 lagoons, etc.

  3. (continuing) I did find this note: There are 45 natural water springs, or fountains, that feed rivers and lakes in what is now the Sungay Natonal Park. This entire area covers a region of 2000 square miles and these natural fountains, or springs as they are called today, are the sources of more than sixty lakes, lagoons, rivers, and waters scattered across the region, nestled at 12,000 feet in Ozogoche among volcanoes and differing elevations of the Andean peaks that even today isolates Ecuador’s remote and vast natural beauty. Within this land of many waters is found countless valleys, lagoons, small waterfalls, rivers, and dense vegetation, and numerous springs that feed the various water ways from underground aquifers.
    In Ecuadorian lore, the area is considered one of great mystery so out-of-place it is in the overall region. The lakes and lagoons of Ozogoche are one of Ecuador’s most enigmatic and sacred sites which are infamous for being a so-called “Elephant Cemetary” for birds. Starting at the end of August and for all of September thousands of migrating Plover birds leave their breeding habitat in the arctic islands and coastal areas of Alaska and Canada to make the great journey south to Argentina and Chile. When they reach the Ozogoche Lakes thousands of these Plover birds seemingly “commit suicide” by diving into the icy waters in a mysterious and sacred tribute to the indigenous Quechua people of the region.
    For unexplained reasons to-date, thousands of these migratory birds gather over Verdecocha Lake, making terrible noises and paying tribute to death as observers watch these "Cuvivíes” (a name the locals give the birds because of the sound they make), fall into the water in a form of mass suicide. One can only wonder if this has been going on throughout the ages and what effect it might have had in Mormon’s choosing of this area for the final Nephite stand.