Modern humans are the best humans. Just look back at those primitive troglodytes from hundreds of years ago: what a bunch of idiots. Probably don't even know how to work an iPhone. Truly, we are superior in every way, save for beard-growing abilities. Or are we? Historians are digging up evidence that indicates some ancient humans had their shit together in ways modern humanity can still barely manage. Just look at ...
5The Magical Roman Technicolor Cup
The Lycurgus Cup is an Ancient Roman goblet kicking around at the Smithsonian. You might wonder what could possibly be so technologically advanced about a cup (does it shimmy over to the fridge and fill itself with beer?). Scientists didn't notice anything special about it either, until they held it up to the light. You see, it looks green when lit from the front:
Johnbod, via Wikipedia
No hellish scenes of the suffering damned here!
But when lit from behind, it turns a demonic red:
Sailko, via Wikipedia
There we go.
In 1990, British researchers tried to unlock the mystery of the devil's beer stein. What they found was that the glass was full of gold and silver flecks 1,000 times thinner than a human hair. Basically, the Romans discovered nanotechnology -- the science of manipulating incredibly small particles -- and used it to make a bitchin' pimp cup.
"Veni, Vidi, VEYOTCHHH!"
To make the cup, they would have had to grind up gold and silver into grains many times smaller than sand and fuse it to the glass in specific proportions to produce subatomic effects that we're only just beginning to understand in recent decades.
For some reason, the scientists weren't allowed to take this millennia-old relic and fill it with Tang and tequila (That's a TnT, and we heartily recommend it) just to see what happened. So they did their best to replicate it and found that it would probably also have changed colors based on what kind of liquid was poured into it. It's a Hypercolor chalice! What's more, it's even more effective at detecting different kinds of substances in water than modern sensors are, which means that science is actually considering using a piece of technology from the time of Caesar to improve modern substance detectors. The Ancient Romans were so good at getting drunk that they broke the science of the future.
4Viking Compasses Nearly as Good as GPS
Navigating the ocean back in ancient times was extremely tricky, given that they didn't have GPS, compasses, or even shuffleboard on those rickety old cruise ships. If you wanted to go from, say, Europe to the Americas back then, you were just as likely to crash into Madagascar since all that water looks the same out there. Scientists were puzzled about how the Vikings were consistently able to travel in a totally straight line from Norway to Greenland and back, some 1,600 miles, while the rest of the world was rowing around in circles, too proud to ask the passing mermaids for directions. Then, in 1948, they found an ancient Viking artifact under an 11th-century convent and concluded it was a shockingly advanced compass.
Proceedings of the Royal Society
Why anyone would be in a rush to get to Greenland, however, remains a mystery.
Before magnetic compasses, ancient mariners had to find their way using sundials, which told time and direction by shining a shadow onto a disc. As you can imagine, at night or even on a cloudy day, they were about as useful as reading tea leaves and sacrificing a goat to Odin. But the Viking compass, known as the Uunartoq disc, had ways of getting around that. On top of being an amazingly sophisticated sundial with several shadow sticks to work out the cardinal directions, medieval records of the device refer to a "magic" crystal that enabled it to work even when the sun wasn't available. And while we're still jaded enough to put "magic" in sarcastic quotes, researchers believe that a certain kind of crystal placed in the device could have created a pattern on the disc when exposed to even dim light, which they could have used to find their way.
Andrew J Shearer/iStock/Getty Images
A Global Pillaging System.
Upon testing, scientists found less than 4 degrees of error, which is comparable to modern compasses. Even with these results, we still don't know everything about the compass or if it was even more accurate, since half of it was missing when we uncovered it. In any case, we can confidently state the ancient Vikings at least had Apple Maps beat.