The 6 Most Important Things Humanity Just Plain Forgot

Turns out some of the most amazing things ever discovered wound up lost or forgotten for centuries, for utterly ridiculous reasons.
The 6 Most Important Things Humanity Just Plain Forgot

If you could draw a graph showing the growth of mankind's knowledge and technology, you'd think it would look like a staircase, steadily edging upward year after year as we get a little bit smarter than our ancestors.

It's not true, though. Some of the most amazing things ever discovered wound up lost or forgotten for centuries, for utterly ridiculous reasons. Such as...

The Steam Engine

The 6 Most Important Things Humanity Just Plain Forgot

A whole lot of the modern world you're enjoying right now exists thanks to the invention of the steam engine, which kicked off the industrial age. It was invented in 1712 and later improved by James Watt, who would get all of the credit (right down to everyone using his last name to measure electricity).

Wait, did we say it was invented in 1712? Because that's actually off by 1600 years or so.

The 6 Most Important Things Humanity Just Plain Forgot

Some time in the first century, an engineer called Heron of Alexandria, or Hero to his friends, set to work on an aeolipile--a small, steam-powered turbine that propelled itself by shooting steam out of one or more orifices. Freaking 1600 years before the Europeans declared that the "new" steam engine would completely revolutionize the world.

The 6 Most Important Things Humanity Just Plain Forgot


How Could We Have Forgotten It?

It was too far ahead of its time. Think about it: This is a damned steam engine built during the era when the New Testament was going on. It would be like somebody making a prototype Warp Drive during World War I. No one could figure out what to do with it.

The 6 Most Important Things Humanity Just Plain Forgot

Look at it. It's like Sputnik. Is it a toy? A cooking implement?

Whatever Hero intended for his cool whatsamabobbit, everyone else just saw it as a novelty. Which is too bad, because it really could have got the modernization ball rolling a lot earlier. Inventors like Watt were wasting their talents inventing an engine that had already been invented, rather than perfecting x-ray vision and hoverboards.

The World's Largest Solid Gold Statue

The 6 Most Important Things Humanity Just Plain Forgot

The Golden Buddha is a solid gold statue that is almost 10-feet tall, more than 12-feet wide and weighs in at an impressive five and a half tons. In other words, it isn't the sort of thing that slips between the couch cushions and vanishes.

And it's old. Experts' best guess is that it's from the 13th century. So about the time that Marco Polo was pretending to explore China, somebody in Thailand was shaping a buttload of gold into this guy.

The 6 Most Important Things Humanity Just Plain Forgot


Yet, from the late 17th century until the 1950s, no one had any clue that the statue existed. Even though it was in plain sight.

How Could We Have Forgotten It?

In the 1700s the Burmese were invading Thailand, and the Thai king needed to protect the country's most precious assets, among them being this ginormous solid gold statue, which was sittin' around, all shiny and rich looking. So the king ordered that the locals cover it with plaster and stick it in an inauspicious temple.

A year later, the Thai population revolted against the Burmese occupation and took back control of the city. Although accurate records are lost, it is speculated the Thais celebrated their victory with Red Bull, a pinata and not bothering to take the plaster off of the Golden Buddha right away.

The 6 Most Important Things Humanity Just Plain Forgot

Uhhh... guys?

Eventually, people forgot there were 11,000 pounds of gold under there. Let's see, gold is currently worth over $1,100 an ounce, 16 ounces in a pound, so... that's about two hundred million dollars worth of gold.

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Enough gold to make Manute Bol look like Spud Webb, and really really black.

Decades passed and Golden Buddha still sat in stucco. Eventually the statue was relegated to a tin-roofed shed because it was simply just in the way. It was this ugly, plaster thing that was way heavier than it should be. But it couldn't be destroyed, because it was a Buddha statue. Ultimately, even the shed started falling apart, so in the 1950s the monks figure they'd better put the effigy somewhere out of the rain, lest they risk the wrath of the Enlightened One.

Even with the finest crane technology available in Thailand in the 1950s, the monks still botched the job, dropping the statue in a mud puddle. Attempting to dodge the karmic lightning bolts they incurred through their inept hoisting, they fled the scene, leaving the statue in a puddle overnight. Seriously, monks, get it together.


Flaky-ass cenobites.

When one of them poked at the statue the next morning, some of the plaster scraped off, revealing that, oh, wait, this is one of the most valuable things in the history of mankind.

The Cure for Scurvy

The 6 Most Important Things Humanity Just Plain Forgot

Before meth addiction was the #1 cause of tooth loss among otherwise healthy pirates, it was scurvy. And scurvy, as hilarious as it sounds, is no ball of laughs. First your gums get all bloody and your teeth loosen, then your skin gets spotty and you start bleeding from your mucous membranes. Finally, you develop open sores and become immobile. It was the scourge of sea-going folk for centuries.

Then in 1747, a naval doctor named James Lind demonstrated that scurvy could be cured with fresh lemons. Lemon love was even enacted into law: All ships in the British navy were required to provide a lemon juice ration for their seamen.

The 6 Most Important Things Humanity Just Plain Forgot

The lemon juice ration led to British sailors being dubbed "limeys," because at the time, people thought all citrus fruits were basically the same, and all citrus fruits were called limes (FORESHADOWING: THEY'RE NOT ALL THE SAME). The point is, thanks to lemons, scurvy was a thing of the past.

But scurvy was just gearing up for Scurvy 2: The Revenge. Most diseases need to develop a new strand to have their big budget sequel, but all scurvy needed was everyone to forget the cure, which everyone promptly did. This was bad news for a team of British scientists who took a three year journey to the South Pole, and packed nothing but biscuits, canned fat, cocoa, butter and sugar, which was supplemented by their horses when the starving time came. Despite the fact that it was almost 200 years after the cure for scurvy was discovered by one of their own damned countrymen, they were plum baffled when everyone got scurvy.

The 6 Most Important Things Humanity Just Plain Forgot

How Could We Have Forgotten It?

They never really understood the lemon thing in the first place.

Which is why the British Navy switched the ration from lemons to limes in the early 19th century; limes were plentiful within the empire. Unfortunately, they're not as rich in vitamin C, and no one made the link between vitamin C deficiency and scurvy until 1932--almost two hundred damned years after we first figured out lemons helped. And not only were the limes not as chock full of anti-scurvy nectar, but the navy didn't serve it fresh, they served it as juice. In the process of juicing, they got rid of a good deal of the vitamin C.

It turns out there's a downside to living on boats in the middle of nowhere for months at a time.

The 6 Most Important Things Humanity Just Plain Forgot

At the same time, better naval technology shortened voyages, so scurvy didn't have the chance to manifest itself as it used to. So everyone thought limes were doing the trick, but they weren't. And, as if there weren't already Three's Company level misunderstandings, the dominant theory was that rotten meat, not lack of vitamin C, caused scurvy. And all of these things combined in one horrific expedition to the Antarctic.

It wasn't until 20 years later that people actually used something called "science" and "evidence" to nail down the actual cure for scurvy. Which, it turns out, was the same cure discovered a couple of centuries before.

The Best Way to Stop Deadly Bleeding

The 6 Most Important Things Humanity Just Plain Forgot

Claudius Galenus (called "Galen" by his peers) was the greatest surgeon in the world back in the second century AD, which is a little like saying he was the "classiest stripper in Atlantic City." Galen's contemporaries, after all, were convinced that arteries were filled with air, which gives you some idea of how useful they were when you were bleeding to death. And Galen himself was a huge advocate of bloodletting, and was the first doctor to prescribe "bleeding it out" as a perfectly reasonable way to cure headaches.

The 6 Most Important Things Humanity Just Plain Forgot

Just a few more pints and your dandruff will be gone forever!

Yet Dr. G was also the first guy who popularized ligature as a method of stopping uncontrollable bleeding. Ligature, for those of you who aren't in the medical know, is tying up a bleeding artery, vein or pee valve. Before Galen there was only one treatment for deadly bleeding: Cauterizing. Sounds all right, unless you know that "cauterize" is Latin for "burn it shut."

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Also known as "arson on your arteries."

As the chief surgeon for wounded gladiators in Pergamus, Turkey, Galen was the first to stop a hemorrhage by tying the injured vessel closed. And he got so good at zipping fools up that the mortality rate of his charges was next to nothing, which rightfully made him famous. His technique revolutionized medicine...

Or it would have, if the world hadn't completely forgotten about it for the next 1500 years.

How Could We Have Forgotten It?

By the Middle Ages, no one was doing the ligature thing. Not only was cauterizing the only way to deal with bleeding valves, Europeans decided to one-up the barbarism by full-on pouring boiling tar on the injury rather than using a hot iron. BOILING TAR.


Well, lots of brilliant stuff was forgotten during the Dark Ages, like the shape of the Earth and how to bathe. In Medieval Europe, touching a sick person was a no-no--you'd probably feel the same way if 60 percent of the people in your universe died of the plague. So instead of tying an injured artery closed, the surgeon just burned it shut with a long metal rod. Or poured BOILING TAR on it.

Meanwhile, the Islamic world actually embraced Galen's treatises, and kept his immense legacy alive while the Western world got progressively stupider. But they had their own problem: Getting all up inside a sickie's veins wasn't kosher, or whatever the Islamic word for kosher is, and the Muslim world that loved so much of Galen's other teachings let this one little remedy go the way of the pulled pork sandwich.

The 6 Most Important Things Humanity Just Plain Forgot

It wasn't until 1575 that a French surgeon re-popularized Galen's idea about ligature and people started getting their tie on again--a whole lot of dead patients and an ocean of spilled blood later.

The Great Hedge Of India

The 6 Most Important Things Humanity Just Plain Forgot

A hedge? Like, a bunch of bushes in a row? Why would people remember a hedge?

How about if it was approximately 2,000 miles long?

Such a thing existed in India once upon a time, and it was probably big enough to be seen from space. Why would somebody bother to plant a hedge that ridiculously huge? Well, salt used to rule the world. It was so valuable it was often used as currency, and for centuries, despots who wanted to grab a country by the balls only needed to control its access to salt. The British East India Company, for instance, brutalized India for decades with a crippling salt tax. There was only one problem: Salt was totally accessible to anyone willing to travel to either coast during the summer. Because the salt just sat there in the evaporated ocean bed, begging to get mined, boiled and tossed on your giant mall pretzels.

The 6 Most Important Things Humanity Just Plain Forgot

Salt & Human life

So the British East India Company came up with an evil-genius-caliber solution to prevent salt smuggling: They hired demonic gardeners to raise a living, impenetrable wall of thorns that became known as the Great Hedge of India. The Great Hedge was immense: If there were a hedge running from San Diego to Vancouver, it would still be shorter (although it would contain almost 160,000 times more discarded granola bar wrappers).

For 40 years this big bush acted as the blocker of free salt. Yet once it was dismantled, its memory totally disappeared from India and Britain's collective consciousness.

The 6 Most Important Things Humanity Just Plain Forgot

They remembered the hot, sword-wielding chicks though.

How Could We Have Forgotten It?

At some point in the 1880s, the Great Hedge was dismantled twig by twig, reworked into tasteful patio furniture, and then burned. Probably gleefully. And for more than 100 years, no one bothered to record or even mention it in any of the definitive accounts of India's history. As any hedge aficionado will tell you, it's tough out there for a hedge; even the best hedges have a rough time getting any play in the mainstream media.


By 1995, The Great Hedge of India was entirely forgotten, and it might have stayed forgotten indefinitely, if not for one librarian: Roy Moxham. Moxham followed up a footnote in an obscure text and re-discovered evidence of a 1,500-mile long hedge--a hedge that happened to be associated with a hated initiative of a brutal regime--that had inexplicably slipped the mind of an entire country.


The 6 Most Important Things Humanity Just Plain Forgot

About 300 years before Baby Jesus was born, the Romans wrote their name in the sidewalk of history as the perfecters of concrete. The new building material quickly won a following, and even spurred something of a revolution, which was dubbed "the Concrete Revolution" by a historian who was himself dubbed "least creative dubber of all time" by us.

The 6 Most Important Things Humanity Just Plain Forgot

It wasn't long before dicks were drawn in it.

It was during this revolution that the Romans perfected the arch, the vault and the dome, not to mention underwater architecture, which allowed Rome to bless the Empire with aqueducts and dams. And guess what? Head on over to Europe and there's a good chance you can still see some of this stuff.

But what we don't see are concrete dams, bridges and Pantheons from the Middle Ages, because, once again, something that the Romans figured out was immediately forgotten by an entire society of ADHD sufferers: The Europeans of the Dark Ages.

It wasn't until 1756 that concrete was rediscovered and quickly applied to another revolution:

The 6 Most Important Things Humanity Just Plain Forgot

The skating revolution!

How Could We Have Forgotten It?

They lost the recipe.

But to be fair, unless we're specifically talking about medieval Italians who lived near Vesuvius or other volcanoes, they weren't going to get the recipe right in the first place. Because the key to Roman concrete was the use of volcanic ash called pozzolana. The ash served as a binder so effective that, with a few steel reinforcements, would still be as durable as modern concrete. We can only assume that architects from the Middle Ages tried to mix up their own batches, left out the crucial volcanic ash, then cried themselves to sleep over the watery sidewalk stew that they ended up with. Eventually, they abandoned the formula altogether - presumably chocking up all those buildings people still lived in every day as some sort of pagan magic.

Finally, in 1756 a British engineer figured out that how to use something called hydraulic lime (you god damn British and your lime) to get the concrete party stared once again, and the rest is rebellious pre-teen and aging burnout history.


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