7 Modern Conveniences That Are Way Older Than You Think
Most of us think of ancient civilizations as an unhealthy mix of communicable disease, outdoor toilets, and nearly toxic body odor. And that's if you're lucky and don't starve to death before puberty. But many civilizations had shockingly advanced modern amenities, for example ...
The Persian Empire Had Air Conditioning
When you think of Persians, you probably think of flying carpets and people getting kicked into holes. That may or may not be historically accurate, but what the movies usually do get right is that, being in the middle of the desert, the Persian Empire could get hot as fuck. But, you know, what could they do back then: turn on the AC and kick back?
And for the winter, you just switch to the hole that's bored down to molten lava.
That diagram shows how the old timey Iranians cooled themselves about 1,000 freaking years ago. You see, during the Achaemenid Empire (2,500 years ago), Persians started building complex underground irrigation systems called qanats, whose transported water allowed people to not die during droughts. The qanats were basically a series of giant holes in the ground leading to an underground stream -- you can still see them from satellites these days:
"And lo, the lord did snake-fuck the earth."
Fast forward to the middle ages: After realizing that these areas were unfortunately still hot as deserts (because they were deserts), the Persians also began to construct wind towers above their buildings. Warm air flowed down to the cold water stream under the building and circulated back to the lower level of the house transformed into a cool, refreshing breeze. The wealthiest inhabitants of the region had huge qanat-connected basements for the sole purpose of sitting back and chilling in the middle of the desert heat -- some of these included pools and, we have to assume, naked slaves swinging giant leafs.
As far back as 400 BC, the qanats were also used to refresh specially constructed "refrigerator" rooms where the Persians stored ice accumulated during the winter. We think it's no coincidence that these buildings looked like giant upside-down ice cream cones.
That or giant cold nipples.
Add this to the fact that the Persian Empire also had a modern postal service, and we're thinking maybe those Spartans in 300 would have been better off just giving in to Xerxes' army and becoming pool slaves in Persia.
Romans Had Shopping Malls and Fast Food Joints
The shopping mall is seen by many as the biggest symbol of our bloated, decadent, smoothie-loving society. Don't you wish we could go back to the good old days before rampant consumerism turned every other building into a freaking temple of consumerism? And by "good old days" we mean "around when Jesus walked the Earth," because apparently that's how long malls have existed -- check out Trajan's Market in Rome, which opened in 113 AD:
It's been in ruins since the great Midnight Sale of 120 AD.
It turns out the Romans loved to shop as much as we do. They had recently perfected the art of cement making and decided to put their new skill to some immediate use by building an obscenely big (for its time) shopping complex. Trajan's Market featured more than 150 different rooms among four different levels, including countless stores, storage rooms, and "public assistance" offices -- we're now imagining mall law offices owned by cheap Lionel Hutz-caliber lawyers.
At Trajan's Market, Romans could buy silver, gold, textiles, clothing, decorations, soaps, cosmetics, and, of course, food to stuff their faces with: There were all sorts of eateries, lounges, taverns, and probably an Orange Julius. Having trouble imagining what an ancient fast food joint looked like? Well, there's one in the ruins of Pompeii, and it's basically an Iron Age McDonald's:
The Romans were a lot less strict about the "Don't shit where you eat" rule.
Food or drink would be served in the holes on the counter you see up there. This wasn't just a Pompeii thing, since archeological studies have found that Romans, in general, loved to eat on the go -- they lived in tiny quarters with no space for a stove, so they'd just buy takeout food from any of the "numerous fast food restaurants" across the empire.
And if they caught a bug from that falafel they bought outside the Coliseum? No problem: The Romans also had a modern sewage system. The Cloaca Maxima was built in the 6th century BC to carry storm water into Tiber, and eventually they linked their toilets into it so they didn't have to wallow in, or anywhere near, their own poop.
South Asia Had Dentistry 9,000 Years Ago
No matter how bad your last dental session was, it was still infinitely more safe and pleasant than what, say, your grandfather had to deal with. And if you go back a couple of centuries, they just yanked out the teeth with pliers, right?
Actually, evidence suggests that dental drilling was in practice in parts of Pakistan as far back as 9,000 years ago. Pretty advanced for some primitives who were still figuring out they could make food grow out of the floor, right? Of course, the problem was that the drilling pre-dates all forms of anesthetics and even alcohol by a substantial chunk of time ... which means early dentist's patients had to endure having a sharpened stone bore into their teeth without any sort of pain-killer.
"Don't worry, I'll put back the rest of your skull when I'm done."
We know the procedures were performed when the individuals were alive, because the teeth show signs of wear. This makes it more impressive that some cultures used these advances for non-hygienic reasons: namely, looking totally pimp. The Native Americans of about 2,500 years ago would use these same basic techniques to ingrain their teeth with pure bling in the form of precious gemstones. A chunk of enamel was removed, glue-like resin was applied to the newly formed tooth-hole, gemstones were attached, and pussy was gotten in great quantity.
This guy rode around on a buffalo with literal flames on the sides.
The ancient Egyptians also knew a thing or two about oral health, and they invented a couple of amenities you use every day (we hope): toothpaste and breath mints. These were born of necessity, however, as the gritty foods that the Egyptians ate wore away at their teeth, exposing the pulp and allowing infections to take hold. Ass breath became a national problem, and the first mint was invented out of myrrh, frankincense, cinnamon, and honey.
They didn't stop there, though -- the Egyptians also came up with a recipe for toothpaste so good that a component in it is now being used again due to its recently (re)discovered properties, mainly its ability to prevent gum disease. Yep, the Egyptians had better toothpaste than your grandfather did.
Which is why his punk ass needs a new grill.
Greeks Had Alarm Clocks
We tend to think of the ancient Greeks as a bunch of circle-jerking beardos in white togas who sat around coming up with abstract concepts like philosophy or democracy, but not necessarily anything of practical use. If the Greeks were so smart, how come the concept of trousers continued to elude them?
However, the Greeks also gave us a useful "modern" invention, without which we'd all be arriving at work extremely late (or worse, extremely early). You see, back in the fourth century BC, philosopher Plato had a little problem: He needed a way to make sure the students at his famous academy got up on time for his fabulous lectures, but alarm clocks didn't exist back then. So he just invented them.
Academy Rule #1: All students must be on time. Academy Rule #2: No shirts allowed.
Water clocks had been around for centuries: These were just two stone vessels, one of which dripped water into the other, and once the water filled the second vessels you knew a certain amount of time had passed. In Greece they were everywhere, including on your local prostitute's nightstand, just so she could time your visit down to the drip.
Don't ask what she filled it with.
These clocks were no good for you when you were asleep, though. Plato got around that by modifying the academy's water clock so that as the liquid dripped overnight it would fill a vessel that was attached to a siphon. When the water reached a predetermined level, the siphon would activate and pull all of the water into a second, sealed vessel that had only small slits for the air to escape. This created a loud whistling sound that would wake the students, and also make them want to punch anyone who whistled near them through the day.
The idea was expanded by Ctesibius about a century-and-a-half later (also, he may have just invented everything we described while trying to figure out Plato's system). Ctesibius added reeds to the whistling slits of Plato's alarm, creating a monotonous trumpeting that would wake a coma patient, and even pebbles that dropped onto gongs when the water reached a certain level.
And, um, little naked guys. He was Greek.
The Ancient Inuit Had Sunglasses
Quick, if you had to guess which era these glasses belonged to, what would you say? We'd go with, oh, the 24th century or so.
That's some Duck Dodgers shit right there.
That looks like something Griff Tannen's henchmen would be wearing. Well, our estimate is slightly off: These "snow-goggles" were invented around 2,000 years ago by the ancestors of the Inuit at the Old Bering Sea. They're called that because the small slits are designed to allow people to look at the tundra on a bright day without having their retinas explode from all the sunlight reflecting off the snow. They're made from ivory, so they would have been completely white back when they were first made, making them look even more futuristic. The Inuit still use them today, because why wouldn't they?
Other than the fact that it makes them look like they want to kill The Flash.
Somehow, the sunglasses fad must have found its way to Europe, because shortly after the snow-goggles were invented the Roman Emperor Nero is said to have used gemstones to look at gladiators killing each other in the arena -- apparently these emerald-green stones Nero probably had lying around his bathroom somewhat cut down on the glare.
About 1,200 years later in China, some judges wore opaque, quartz-like shaded glasses over their eyes, not to block the sun or look cool, but to block their reactions to evidence being heard in court (and keep the accused's sphincter clenched during the entire proceedings). Whether or not the glasses helped judges sleep through trial without being noticed isn't in the historical record, but would be awesome.
You pretty much know they're guilty in the first 30 seconds anyway.
Vikings Had Arrest Warrants, Child Support, and Welfare
In the popular imagination Vikings are less "enlightened lawmakers" and more "hairy guys jumping around with axes shouting RAAAAR." And yet, not only did they have progressive rape laws, as we've mentioned before -- they had a whole legal code to ensure every Viking was treated fairly.
Don't believe us? Here's a section of a real Viking saga where, at the point where you'd think they'd start chopping people's limbs off, one of the Vikings literally stops to ask for a warrant:
"I have your warrant right here!" said Thorbjorn, unleashing his sword. There was a legal document at the tip.
Another long Icelandic saga follows the exploits of Njall Zorgeirsson, a ruthless pirate who begins by attacking the coast of -- just kidding, he's a lawyer. In fact, if you sit down and read Viking sagas, you'll find that a lot of them are one-third "savage Norsemen getting angry and killing each other" and two-thirds "arguing about it later in court." The Vikings even had regular public law gatherings, called Things, in which crimes were prosecuted using a complex system of fines and settlements for death and wrongful injury.
Often people who had nothing to do with either party would prosecute a case because of the fame and admiration it brought. We're talking about people whose everyday clothing was half metal, half animals they skinned themselves, and they still thought defending someone in a court of law was the coolest thing ever.
It's how you earned your horn helmet and beard.
But these savage warriors didn't just think of themselves when making their laws, they also had plenty of compassion for the weak. The Gragas (the 12th century Icelandic legal code based on the Vikings' oral rules) outlined a tax system guaranteeing care of the poor if their own families or local communities could not provide for them, even if the recipients did not permanently reside in Iceland, and stipulated a system of child support after divorce, in which both spouses were expected to contribute to the children's upbringing according to their wealth and their ability to work.
And that's how goths were born.
Neanderthals Used Plants as Medication
Picture a Neanderthal holding some herbs. What would you say he's about to do with them? If you said "give himself rectal hives by wiping with poison ivy," then you're ... absolutely right, but that's not all they'd use plants for: They'd also eat very specific ones to cure specific ailments -- Neanderthals officially knew more about medicine than half of us.
How do we know? It's all thanks to a group of intrepid scientists brave enough to probe cavemen teeth under a very strong microscope. Zooming in on the plaque, they spotted tiny particles imbedded in these prehistoric choppers. Karen Hardy from the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies and Stephen Buckley from the University of York pored over the data and found remnants of chamomile and yarrow. And here's the thing: These plants had no nutritional value and, more importantly, many of them would taste like shit. Yes, even to a Neanderthal.
Girly bubble bath technology hadn't been invented yet.
According to the study, these giant-jawed morons supplemented their diets with chamomile because it aids digestive problems, and yarrow because it's an antiseptic. These substances also alleviated stress (they had to deal with wives and little green spacemen, after all) and helped battle the symptoms of a cold or fever. Chamomile is actually a potent anti-inflammatory agent and would have served as the equivalent of a few doses of ibuprofen.
Also, some of the plants had been roasted or smoked, suggesting there were different ways to administer each one. Considering that our current knowledge of nutrition has only been significantly advanced over the past hundred years or so, it's all the more impressive that cavemen could self-medicate almost 50,000 years ago and not end up tripping balls at the bottom of a canyon.
"The good news is, I found Jimmy."
C. Coville's twitter is here. Bryan Douey currently writes for the Man, and is contractually obligated to NOT want you to follow him, on Twitter or elsewhere.
Related Reading: For a primer in technology that existed WAY earlier than you'd expect, >click here. You'll be surprised to learn just how long batteries have been around. To go in the opposite direction, read about simple things invented super recently. Freaking time zones weren't invented until 1880! Last, wind down and learn about modern inventions predicted by science fiction.