Old World, High Tech

An ancient Greek calendar was ahead of its time

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Automatic Temple Door

Inventor: Hero of Alexandria, again
Date: First century A.D.
How it works: A worshipper lights a fire on an altar. The fire heats the air, which increases its volume. The heavier air causes a container of water to flow into a bucket. As the bucket fills, a series of pulleys and gears lifts the temple door.
Proof of complexity: The applied physical principles of pneumatics.
Quirk: "I doubt it if was ever constructed," Humphrey says.

World's First Vending Machine

Inventor: Hero (busy man)
Date: First century A.D.
How it works: A person puts a coin in a slot at the top of a box. The coin hits a metal lever, like a balance beam. On the other end of the beam is a string tied to a plug that stops a container of liquid. As the beam tilts from the weight of the coin, the string lifts the plug and dispenses the desired drink until the coin drops off the beam.
Proof of complexity: Early modern vending machines actually used a similar system, before electrical machines took over.
Quirk: It was devised to distribute Holy Water at temples, because "people were taking more Holy Water than they were paying for," Humphrey says.

Double-action Piston Pump

Inventor: Ctesibus
Date: Third century B.C.
How it works: Two pistons rest in cylinders attached to a handle. As one piston is raised, the other falls. The rising piston allows water to enter a chamber. The falling piston presses the water out of the other side in a constant stream.
Proof of complexity: Such a device is a predecessor of the modern engine. Quirk: With the addition of a nozzle on one end, the device was subsequently turned into a fire-fighting tool—by none other than Hero.


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