Weird History
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10 Mysterious Ancient Inventions Science Still Can't Explain

Updated June 11, 2020 2.0m views10 items

Googling "mysterious ancient discoveries" or "unexplained ancient inventions" leads to dozens of sites listing artifacts supposedly so baffling the only possible answer could be aliens, time travel, the paranormal, the Iluminati, or aliens. Wait - did we already mention aliens? Sorry: they're a go-to explanation for anything apparently too sophisticated, weird, or "out-of-place" for "humans figured it out, okay?" to be a satisfying explanation.

It's a disheartening discovery, because once you separate the hoaxes and nonsense from the finds of actual archeological interest, there are still cool mysteries to explore. The list below features mysterious ancient inventions, unexplained ancient discoveries, and some slightly more recent finds still baffling to scientists in the 21st century - but not because they're a sign of alien tech. Give ancient humanity a little more credit, y'know?   

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  • Zhang Heng's Seismoscope Was Believed To Detect Earthquakes  

    The first earthquake-detecting tool in history was this ornate, golden, dragon-festooned, toad-surrounded vessel from around 132 AD. (The picture is of a replica.)

    The basic premise was as follows: when the earth quakes, one of the dragons, each representing principal directions of the compass, would spit out a bronze ball into a toad's mouth, indicating the direction of the quake. 

    The instrument was said to have "detected a four-hundred-mile distant earthquake which was not felt at the location of the seismoscope." But to this day, no one actually knows what was exactly inside the artifact. Some say it could have been a simple pendulum-based system, but the exact "science" remains a mystery.

  • It's Unclear How Vikings Made Their Ulfberht Swords

    Photo: Anders Lorange / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    The Vikings may have used techniques or materials borrowed from the creators of Damascus steel to make their legendary "Ulfberht" swords. When archeologists discovered the Viking blades, they were shocked because "the technology needed to produce such pure metal would not be invented for another 800 years."

    In 2014, a 9th-century Viking grave was discovered in Scandanavia with an Islamic inscription meaning “for/to Allah,” linking the two worlds and making the shared knowledge plausible - but that's just a theory. The true origin of the blades is still unknown.

    In 2020, German scientists found evidence suggesting that the Ulfberht swords might have been created in Germany

  • Scientists Disagree About Why The Iron Pillar Of Delhi Won't Rust

    The more-than-1600-year-old "Iron Pillar of Delhi" has scientists divided about its resistance to rust. There are two schools of thought: Scientists and experts who believe the environment is a factor state that the mild climate of Delhi, India, is ultimately to thank. Right place, right time, essentially. However, experts who have studied the materials says it's all about the "presence of phosphorus, and absence of sulfur [and] manganese in the iron," plus the "large mass of the pillar."

    Regardless, it's a impressive piece of engineering.

  • The Phaistos Disk Could Be A Prayer To An Ancient Goddess

    There were some interesting theories surrounding the artifact, as the Phaistos Disc was a mystery since it was first discovered. Originally found in 1908 in Crete, this 6-inch diameter clay disk dates back to around 1700 BC and features 241 “words” created out of 45 individual symbols, arranged in a spiral.

    Early theories thought the disc might contain "sheet music," a hymn or prayer dedicated to matriarchal deity, or an ancient proto-typewriter.

    Recently, Dr. Gareth Owens along with phoneticist Professor John Coleman, theorized that the disc was written in a Minoan script and linked the language to a prayer to the Minoan goddesses and deities of the time. The findings are still under review.