What the Ancients Did for Us

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History, Technology Documentary narrated by Adam Hart-Davis and published by BBC in 2005 - English narration

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Step back in time to discover how the world was shaped by the ancient Chinese, the Mesopotamians, the Arabs and even the Ancient Britons. Adam Hart-Davis presents an epic history of ancient inventions and is joined by his team of roving reporters on the move around the globe as they delve into the beginnings of civilization.

Who invented beer, bread and the wheel? How did the Egyptians align the pyramids so accurately? Did you know the ancient Greeks measured the circumference of the earth, invented robots and the first computer?

This epic new series begins in the Middle East with a set of amazing inventions from The Islamic World and the series finishes with the Britons. Along the way we will meet the Chinese, the Aztecs, Maya & Incas, the Romans, the Indians, the Mesopotamians, the Egyptians, the Greeks.

Nine programmes examining the military, technological, social, architectural and medical advances of each era and its peoples, What the Ancients Did for Us traces some of the defining moments in history and the key inventions that shaped our world today.

[edit] The Islamic World

In this first part of an exciting new series, Adam Hart-Davis builds and tests some of the most extraordinary inventions from the early Islamic World. From the palaces of the Alhambra in Spain to the crowded souks of Cairo in Egypt, roving reporter Amani Zain tells us the stories behind the golden age of Islamic discovery. From soap to torpedoes, from water pumps to windmills, Adam shows us the lasting effect the Islamic world has left on the technology we use today.

[edit] The Chinese

China is the fastest growing economy on earth. One in four of every person on the planet is Chinese, and Shanghai is six times the size of London, offering a home to twenty million people. But while China is developing rapidly now, the Chinese civilisation is one of the oldest surviving in the world.

The ancient Chinese thought they were at the centre of universe. Cut off from the rest of the world for centuries the Chinese developed a unique culture, and made many technological, scientific and artistic advances long before the West.

Programme two of What The Ancients Did For Us explores this amazing country and the inventions of these ingenious people. The people who gave us the world's first fast food including what we call pasta - the noodle. To pay for this delicacy, they came up with paper money, printing with moveable type and a unified system of weights and measures. To move all their goods they invented canals, and the unique segmented arched bridge. To protect their new borders they discovered gunpowder, exploding bombs, paper armour, flamethrowers and the kite. To advance their culture they made the first seismograph and highly efficient double action piston bellow. For pure beauty they gave spun silk, created the firework and lacquer - the world's first plastic. And, finally, for fun they gave us the beautiful game � football.

[edit] The Aztecs, Maya and Incas

These three peoples lived in a vast area of modern-day Central and South America which incorporates coastal strips, hot and steamy jungles, savannah grassland and cold windy highlands. Though they spoke different languages, they had broadly similar cultures and they worshipped many of the same gods (although they gave them different names). They all used digging sticks, ate maize and beans, respected the number 13 and practised human sacrifice. Interestingly, although they developed the wheel as a toy, for some reason they didn't adapt it for other purposes.

The Aztecs built their settlement in a swamp in what is now Mexico City and when the Spanish arrived they thought it more spectacular than Venice. The Aztecs were fantastic warriors but they were also excellent farmers: because they had stumbled on hydroponics, their floating fields produced an abundance of nutrients in the food they were growing.

The Mayas built some of the tallest buildings of the ancient world � without the use of the wheel, or even horses. The pyramid El Castillo in Chichen Itza is the Mayan calendar, literally set in stone. Each staircase has 91 steps which, when added to the single step at the main entrance to the temple, totals 365 steps. At sunset on the spring equinox, the great serpents' heads at the foot of the main staircase are joined to their tails by a "body" of shadow. They developed a very accurate calendar that could predict solar and lunar eclipses, transits of Venus and - most importantly - the coming of the rains and the time to plant.

[edit] The Romans

Rome was founded on the banks of the Tiber in 753 BC and for a thousand years the western world was ruled from within its walls. To support this vast Empire the Romans created complex infrastructure and used the techniques of mass production, centuries before the industrial revolution. In this programme Adam Hart-Davis will find out how the Romans managed to do so much, so long ago and discover just what the Romans did for us.

For a start they created the first professional, salaried army and invented fearsome war machines. To move around the Empire they constructed thousands of miles of roads � and we find out what it actually takes to build one of these.

They built amphitheatres and race tracks and in the process brought gladiatorial games and equine sport to every corner of their empire.

They pioneered the mass production of glass and double glazing, and created enormous aqueducts that fed water from distant sources into the heart of their cities and bath houses, created clever heating systems, and flushing toilets. They produced vast quantities of marble veneer to clad their cities and recent evidence suggests they cut the stone using multiple bladed water-powered saws. To move such heavy material they constructed cranes and invented the first ball-bearings.

But perhaps their one invention that has had the biggest impact on the modern world more than anything else is concrete, they used it everywhere from houses to bridges, (it would set hard under water), and without it they couldn't have built the Pantheon and its vast domed roof � unsurpassed in size until the 19th century.

[edit] The Indians

India is one of the oldest and richest civilizations in the world. It is home to the world's first planned cities, where every house had its own bathroom and toilet five thousand years ago. The Ancient Indians have not only given us yoga, meditation and complementary medicines, but they have furthered our knowledge of science, maths - and invented Chaturanga, which became the game of chess.

According to Albert Einstein, they "taught us how to count", as they invented the numbers 1-9 and 'zero', without which there would be no computers or digital age. Unfairly we call this system of counting Arabic numbers - a misplaced credit.

In 1790 the Indians defeated the British Army in the battle of Pollilur with a secret invention � the rocket. The British eventually stole the idea and used it against Napoleon's fleet. And so what Ancients episode would be complete without obligatory demonstrations of ancient techniques for making explosions from Adam and "Master Craftsman Marty Jopson"? This episode is not incomplete in this way.

[edit] The Mesopotamians

Who kicked off civilisation? Was it the Egyptians, the Greeks or the Romans? Well, actually, none of them did. Human history began in the great alluvial plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, with its rich and immensely fertile soil: a land known as Mesopotamia. The people that dwelled here eight thousand years ago had learned to irrigate the land with canals and ditches, and were keen farmers. From this came plenty, which relieved man of the need to fight for survival. The Assyrian, Babylonian and Sumerian civilisations flourished here in an area stretching from modern Turkey, to western Syria, and Iraq.

But what did they do for us? For a start, they invented writing, with the oldest book, the epic of 'Gilgamesh', written around 4,500 years ago. They also gave us the first written laws - apparently to restrain 'drunkenness' in the population; a side effect of another of their innovations, beer.

They invented brick, which they produced in millions to build the first cities and their 'Ziggurat' temples. In warfare they gave us the first professional army and invented the tank or siege engine, and it was here that the wheel was invented; and then the chariot in 4,000 BC.

They observed the movement of the stars, and created the Zodiac, thereby being responsible for both astrology and astronomy.

The list goes on � the reed boat and the sail, glass blowing... They even came up with the electric battery, although no one is quite sure what they did with it.

Hermione Cockburn is back as roving reporter to seek out the cradle of civilization.

[edit] The Egyptians

Egypt became a unified country five thousand years ago and - until the arrival of Alexander the Great in 332 BC - remained a fiercely independent land with its own very distinctive art, religion and culture. Egypt was the superpower of its day and her kings were treated as demigods throughout the Mediterranean world � but what did they do for us?

Trying to control the flood water of the Nile, the Egyptians built the first dam, a huge undertaking which unfortunately didn't survive a severe flash flood.

Technology and tool-making are high up on the list of Egyptian inventiveness. To speed up the smelting of bronze they invented the foot bellows and devised the multiple headed drill � a drill that could cut through at least three beads at the same time.

With royalty in mind they gave us the wig, make-up and wonderful clothing, and to keep all this safe they came up with the first lock. To pass the time of day they invented fishing as a hobby and the folding stool to sit on whilst waiting for that bite.

And last but not least the Egyptians liked to keep meticulous records and invented paper from the papyrus plant. It's a wonderful material with long fibres and can also be used for basketry, sandals and rope.

The lovely Amani Zain returns for her third stint as roving reporter.

[edit] The Greeks

The ancient Greek civilisation flourished for about a thousand years, not as a unified country but rather as a loose association of city states, both on the mainland of Greece and elsewhere around the Mediterranean. The philosopher Plato described the states as being like a series of frogs sitting around a pond. Although the Greeks drew on the ideas of various earlier civilisations, they were the people who, more than any other, handed down to us the foundations of our democracy, our notions of ethics and justice, our science, our mathematics and our music.

But perhaps their most amazing invention is the first known computer. This was a small box stuffed with cogs and moving parts all skilfully made and by turning a handle it would display the movements of planets to an astonishing degree of accuracy -in fact it was a planetarium.

Hermione Cockburn gets the Adam "finger towards the horizon" treatment this week.

[edit] The Britons

A lot of people still think that we were just woad-covered savages before the Romans came along. Well, we weren't - firstly we weren't covered in woad but dressed in a rather elegant new-fangled invention - trousers; more importantly we were organised, spiritual, technologically advanced Brits with European business connections � all without towns and cities or being able to read and write!

This programme shows the evolution of the people of Britain from Stone Age hunters to Iron Age warriors. From early people who used animal bone picks to dig mines to a society skilled in the use of metallurgy, bronze, iron and gold. From a nomadic existence to a society organised into tribes with their own coinage and identities. From farmers using simple wooden ploughs to ferocious warriors driving thousands of chariots and repulsing the invading Roman army of Julius Caesar.

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[edit] Technical Specs

  • Video Codec: DivX 5.21
  • Video Bitrate: 1500
  • Video Resolution: 700x408
  • Audio Codec: MPEG-1 Layer 3
  • Audio BitRate: 128kb/s
  • Audio Channels: 2
  • RunTime Per Part: 57:51
  • Number Of Parts: 9
  • Filesize:700MB
  • Ripped by Bosmon

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