10 Ancient Techniques that Still Work Today

by Shweta Anand10 months ago
Picture 10 Ancient Techniques that Still Work Today

Humans have always been known for their inquisitive natures. Even centuries ago, our forefathers discovered and invented numerous techniques that made their lives easier. Sadly, a lot of this ancient knowledge has either been lost or forgotten over time. But thankfully, a few of them managed to survive or were rediscovered in recent times, allowing us to have a better understanding of ancient societies. Therefore, in view of their ingenuity, here are ten ancient techniques that still work today.

1 Two thousand years ago, ancient Egyptians developed an egg-hatching technique that is still used in rural Egypt. For this, they used an “egg oven” that mimicked the heat and moisture conditions under a brooding hen. These ovens could hatch around 4,000 eggs in two to three weeks. 

Egg Incubators
Farmers still use the same techniques developed 2,000 years ago. Image credit: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations [2006] via atlasobscura.com
Some of the earliest mentions of the Egyptian “egg ovens” date back to the time of Aristotle. He wrote that in Egypt, eggs were being spontaneously hatched in the ground, and even today, this 2,000-year-old technique is still practiced in rural Egypt. 

Egg incubators diagram
A diagram of the egg incubators by French entomologist René Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur. Image credit: AVICULTURE EUROPE via atlasobscura.com

These egg ovens use fire to mimic the heat and moisture conditions under a brooding hen and can hatch 4,000 to 4,500 eggs in just a few weeks. From the outside, they look like small pyramids and are placed on rectangular foundations. Inside them, there are wings of two-tiered chambers, with an upper and lower section. 

Within the upper chambers, a small gutter fire is burnt and its heat is transmitted to the lower chambers through small openings. This way, using camel or cow dung as fuel, the Egyptians are able to maintain a temperate heat that enables the eggs to hatch in two to three weeks.

(1, 2)

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2 Using a technique 1,400 years ahead of its time, ancient Babylonians were able to trace the path of Jupiter in the sky. In this technique, they used an abstract form of geometry and plotted the movement of Jupiter, much like a modern-day graph. Until recently, such methods were thought to have been invented only in the 14th century CE. 

Babylonians
Babylonian. A newly deciphered Babylonian tablet reveals the path of Jupiter. Image credits: Shutterstock, Trustees of the British Museum/Mathieu Ossendrijver via livescience.com

In 2016, a professor named Mathieu Ossendrijver deciphered some ancient Babylonian tablets and published a paper on his findings. According to him, the Babylonians knew how to use geometry along with astronomy to trace the path of planets.

These tablets depict the calculations used to trace the path of Jupiter during the first 60 days it appears along the horizon. Such a graph plots Jupiter’s apparent velocity against time, forming a trapezoid-shaped area under the curve. The Babylonians also knew to equally divide this trapezoid’s area into two to calculate the time when Jupiter covers half of the 60-day distance.

Previously, such knowledge was thought to have originated only in the 14th century CE in Europe. However, with the help of these tablets written between 350 to 50 BCE, archeologists have now shown that humans knew how to use geometry and calculus about 1,400 years earlier than believed. (1, 2)

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3 Even as early as 400 BCE, ancient Persians had devised a method to naturally make and store ice in the middle of the desert. Such ice storage units were known as “yakchāls” and used evaporative cooling to freeze water during the colder months.

Yakchāls Exterior
Yakchāls or icehouse. Image credit: Ggia via Wikimedia.org

The idea of man-made ice production units is anything but new. As early as 400 BCE, ancient Persians knew how to make ice in the middle of deserts even without the use of modern technology. 

Yakchāls Interior
Icehouse (interior), Meybod, Iran. Image credit: Ggia via Wikimedia.org

For this, they constructed specialized structures called yakchāls that used evaporative cooling techniques. These giant conical structures often had holes at the bottom to allow cold air to enter and vents at the top for hot air to exit. 

The walls of the structures were typically built thick and heat-resistant to keep the water shaded while it was channeled in. This would then aid in its cooling and quicken the ice formation. Aside from making and collecting ice during the colder months, these structures were also used to preserve food or make frozen desserts throughout the year. 

Today, these structures are considered a sustainable and inexpensive way for modern Iranians to have refrigeration even without electricity.  (1, 2)

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4 Ancient Romans created a special recipe for concrete using lime and volcanic ash about 2,000 years ago. Structures made from this concrete were quite durable against seawater, even more than modern concrete buildings. This is because Roman concrete could adapt to the surroundings and absorbed seawater which strengthened their buildings over time. 

Colosseum
Image credit: Shutterstock

Roughly 2,000 years ago, ancient Romans erected sea walls and piers that are still standing in Italian waters. Built from a different kind of concrete, these structures seem capable of withstanding seawater much better than their modern counterparts. However, it is only recently that we were able to understand how this was possible. 

Roman Concrete
This structure in Tuscany holds clues to why Roman concrete is still so strong. Image credit: J.P. Oleson via smithsonianmag.com

Scientists analyzed ancient Roman structures and found that the concrete used in them is a mixture of quicklime and volcanic ash. While this mixture is not as strong as modern concrete, it is extremely durable, especially against the corrosive effects of seawater.

In fact, this ancient concrete only seems to get stronger with time because, unlike modern concrete that is designed to ignore its surroundings, it actively uses seawater to strengthen itself. 

In present times with the threat of rising sea levels looming ahead, this concrete mixture might just be what helps save thousands of structures in coastal areas. (1, 2)

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5 Nixtamalization is an ancient cooking technique that was developed as early as 1500 BCE. In this method, corn would be soaked in alkaline water to release its nutrients. This technique is still used today and prevents deficiency diseases such as pellagra that could result from a corn-based diet.

Nixtamalization
Nixtamalization. Image credit: Shutterstock

Corn is one of the most cultivated crops in the Americas, with a history that dates back to the Aztecs, the Mayans, and the Incans. However, for it to become a dietary mainstay, it had to first undergo an additional step developed around 1500 BCE.

This ancient cooking technique, called “nixtamalization,” allows the corn to become nutrient-rich and prevents diseases such as pellagra. The Aztecs called the final products of the process “nixtamal,” from which the process itself derives its name.

In this process, corn is first soaked overnight in an alkaline solution. Doing so not only softens the corn kernels but also releases the amino acids and niacin that exist in it in an inaccessible form. Since these nutrients are essential for the human body, a corn-heavy diet without nixtamalization would prove unhealthy. 

Even today, corn-based food products such as tortillas undergo this process to give them their rich flavors. (1, 2)

Also Read:
10 Ancient Structures That Were Ahead of Their Time

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