Blast from the Past: 10 Ancient Tools We Still Use Today

Do you own any ancient tools?

We live in a world where our lives revolve around internet connections and the devices that connect us to it. It’s easy to forget that some of the most important tools used today didn’t come from Silicon Valley. Some come from Ancient Athens.

It’s true. While technology continues to render old devices and techniques useless, some of the world’s most ancient tools continue to form the bedrock of everyday life.

Are you using a tool that someone invented thousands of years ago? Here are ten ancient tools we still use today.

1. Alarm Clock

Even in 2011, almost 60 percent of young people used their phone as their timepiece at home and away.

Whether you use your phone or you stuck with your tried-and-true alarm clock, the principle of your clock didn’t arrive with the advent of the 9-to-5 work schedule.

The first known person to use a device that we could refer to as an alarm clock was Plato in 428 BC. Plato had a water clock that made a sound similar to a water organ. He used it to make it to his lectures on time.

Mechanical clocks came on the scene in the fifteenth century. They sound the alarm because the maker pushes a pin into one of the holes on the clock’s face.

2. Odometer

The odometer in your car tracks the distance you travel digitally. Although we use digital counters in today’s cars, the first version of an odometer was mechanical.

More importantly, the first mechanical odometer first appeared in Ancient Greece.

It was Virtuvius who first described this now ubiquitous invention back in 27 BCE. It’s thought that it dates to the first Punic War when it was invented by Archimedes of Syracuse. Though, some believe it was Heron of Alexandria who came up with it.

Regardless of who had the idea, the odometer took off. It was widely used by the Romans, who used it in road building.

3. Concrete

Concrete foundations make up the bulk of today’s construction.

While modern chemistry found the perfect solution, it was the Romans who first used this durable building material.

When the Romans built their empire, they built much of it with pozzolana. Pozzolana was a mixture of lime and volcanic ash that formed a paste. When they mixed the paste with volcanic rocks, they got an excellent building material.

4. Paper

Paper is one invention that continues to endure, and it’s much closer to the original invention than many other tools.

Paper is famously the product of Ancient China, even if early Egyptian papyrus is the most familiar tool.

It was Cai Lun (25 AD to 220 AD) who first began producing paper on any kind of large scale. His production system used tree bark, rope, fishing nets, and rags. It spread quickly across the Silk Road.

5. Fiber Optics

Fiber optic cables offer today’s gold standard in data connections. While the cables themselves are new, the underlying science is from the nineteenth century.

In 1854, Irish scientist and explorer John Tyndall was potentially the first to prove that it was possible to conduct light through a curved stream of water. In other words, he bent light using what he called a “light fountain.”

There’s some competing evidence that Jean-Daniel Colladon was the first to publish a report on the subject in 1842, and Tyndall gleaned his knowledge that way. However, the matter remains up for debate.

Regardless, the understanding of total internal reflection is the foundation of fiber optics.

6. Water Mills

Watermills provide power to the industrial world. While we don’t rely on them as we used to, they still exist.

The water mill didn’t arrive with industry. It was the Ancient Greeks who first invented both the wheel and the gear that powers it.

Modern water mills began as the Perachora wheel in the third century BC. The earliest known reference to the machine was in Philo of Byzantium’s Pneumatic. The Greeks used it to mill grain, and its use was only stemmed over two-thousand years later by the Industrial Revolution.

7. Mortar and Pestle

Do you use a mortar and pestle to grind up spices?

When you do, you participate in a 10,000-year-old activity. No one knows who invented this simple stone device. But as we discover more and more ancient tools, we find the material and size have differed dramatically depending upon age and place.

Yet, the design hasn’t seen any fundamental changes in the thousands of years it has been diagramed.

8. Bow and Arrow

Bow hunting enthusiasts may use complicated pneumatic tools, but the art dates back nearly 64,000 years to Africa. The bow and arrow have not only survived but thrived because of its multi-purpose use in hunting food and felling foes in warfare.

9. Writing

Humans haven’t always kept written records. Writing is a relatively recent invention compared to the bow and arrow and the mortar and pestle. But its use transformed our lives.

The oldest true writing system is the Sumerian archaic writing, which pre-dates cuneiform. It began from a symbol system around 3200 BC. The earliest coherent texts didn’t appear until nearly 800 years later in 2600 BC.

10. Beer

Most of our favorite brews today don’t date earlier than the 19th century during the migration from Germany to North America.

The origins of our beer began in ancient Mesopotamia. The Sumerians, who also produced the oldest writing, started writing about brewing beer in the third millennium BC.

Scientists believe that beer brewing technology pre-dates the Sumerians and could have been an essential part of the Neolithic Revolution, which occurred when humans stopped hunting and gathering and began agriculture.

Regardless, the fermentation processes used to create grain alcohol are still in full use today.

What Ancient Tools Do You Own?

Technology dictates our modern lives, but some of our most important tools and processes are ancient tools used for thousands of years.

Whether you use an alarm clock or drink beer, you’re enjoying the product of technology thousands of years in the making. And it hasn’t changed fundamentally since its invention.

Want to learn more? Head over to our blog for all things technology.

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