Friday, July 29, 2016

Science and Technology in the Ancient World

Alice C. Linsley

In a conversation with self-proclaimed atheists, I was told that theology and religion emerged because people who lived before the time of science needed to explain natural phenomena. The implication is that we no longer need religion now that we have science. I attempted to explain that the earliest developments in science were motivated by religious concerns, but they were not interested. Their minds were closed and reasoning with them proved a waste of time.

As the Romanian sociologist Mircea Eliade has shown, people of antiquity believed that things on earth are patterned after things in the heavens. Eliade called these “celestial archetypes.” The notion “as in the heavens, so on earth” is common among tribal peoples. Their rituals and ceremonies mirror the celestial patterns which they observe in the clock-like motion of the fixed stars and constellations. Among archaic peoples, these observations were done by a caste of ruler-priests who served at advisers to the high king.

It was a risky business because there were serious consequences if their calculations were wrong. If the ceremony was not performed on exactly the right day, the advisers could be blamed for violating a celestial pattern. If war broke out, or the crops failed, or there was a flood, the ruler’s advisers were blamed. This happened to Chinese astronomers who failed to predict the solar eclipse of 2134 BC. The emperor ordered that they all be executed.

The threat of punishment, even death, motivated the king’s advisers to be as accurate as possible in their calculations. This led to the development of sidereal astronomy. The sidereal day (four minutes longer than the solar day) is the time required for the earth’s rotation to be synchronized with fixed stars. Solar time is the measurement of time according to the earth’s rotation around the sun, but sidereal time is the measurement relative to a distant star. It is used in astronomy to predict when a star will be overhead.

When making ethical decisions, especially decisions that pertained to the timing of important events such as royal weddings and the signing of treaties, ancient peoples relied on observations of the stars and constellations which move in a fixed pattern. Sidereal astronomy is based on the actual location of stars and constellations, unlike popular astrology which is based on culturally-relative symbolism associated with stars and constellations. Sidereal astronomy developed out of an ethical concern to uphold the celestial pattern believed to have been established by the Creator in the beginning.

This worldview is alien to modern Americans and regarded as superstition by atheists. Yet the acute observation of ancient peoples gave birth to technologies such as metal and stone work and to the development of sciences such as horticulture, animal husbandry, sidereal astronomy, and medicine.

Let us consider a few examples.

Metal Work

Timna in the Arabah Valley is the site of 6,000 years old mines and a temple. The oldest mines were worked almost continuously until the Roman Period. There are ancient rock carvings showing warriors in chariots, holding axes and shields. A temple dedicated to Hathor was discovered at the southwestern edge of Mt. Timna by Professor Beno Rothenberg of Hebrew University.

The Chalcolithic metal works at Timna were found at the Wadi Nehushtan in the foothills along the western fringe of the southern Arabah Valley. The smelting works, slag and flints at this site were found to be identical to those discovered near Beersheba where Abraham spent much of his time. The metal workers of Timna and the metal workers of Beersheba were kin and the patroness of their mining operations was Hathor, the mother of Horus, who the Horite venerated. Hathor's temple there dates to 1318-1304 BC. In the temple courtyard there was a workshop for casting copper figurines as votive offerings.

In his book Timna, Rothenberg concluded that the peoples living in the area were "partners not only in the work but in the worship of Hathor." (Timna, p. 183)

Stone Work

One of the earliest occupations of Man was stone work. Sharp-edged flakes, flake fragments, and cobbles have been dated to between 2.5 and 2.6 million years. These were discovered at three sites along the Gona River in the Afar region of Ethiopia. Similar stone tools, known as Oldowan, have been found at Omo in southern Ethiopia, Lokalalei in northern Kenya, and Hadar, five miles east of the Gona River study area.

At Kathu in South Africa, archaeologists collected many thousands of stone tools and products of tool making in a few sample pits over a several acres.

On the Arabian Peninsula, the Qafzeh population created stone tools 125,000 years ago at Jebel Faya. These suggest that humans reached the Arabian Peninsula not from the Lower Nile Valley 119,000 to 81,000 years ago or from the Mediterranean shores 65,000 to 40,000 years ago, but much earlier from the Horn of Africa. The oldest tools were dated to approximately 120,000 years ago, and included denticulates, end-scrapers, foliates, hand axes, and side-scrapers.

Some prehistoric stone artifacts were not used as tools. The Blombos Cave Plaque, dating to 80,000 years PB, may have served as a calendar or a counting device. Stone was ground to make dyes. Red ochre was extracted from mining operations in the Lebombo Mountains. This red powder was used almost universally in the burial of nobles between 45,000 and 2000 BC.

The oldest known stone temple is at Göbekli Tepe in Turkey. Göbekli Tepe is classified as a Pre-Pottery Neolithic site (PPN). It is designated PPNA (ca 10,500 to 9,500 BC) which puts it in the same class as Jericho, Netiv Hagdud, Nahul Oren, Gesher, Dhar', Jerf al Ahmar, Chogha Golan and Abu Hureyra. Göbekli Tepe is one of the sacred "high places" of the ancient world.

Stone workers of the ancient world build stone tombs for their chief priests and kings. Egyptian archaeologists discovered a 4400-year-old tomb, south of the cemetery of the pyramid builders at Giza, Egypt. The ancient tomb was unearthed near the pyramid builder's necropolis. The tomb belongs to a priest named Rudj-Ka (or Rwd-Ka), and is dated to between 2465 and 2323 BC. Rudj-Ka was a priest who performed purification rituals for those who bore blood guilt and who had become contaminated through contact with blood or a corpse.


The ancestors of the Nes craftsmen of Anatolian sites like Gobleki Tepe cultivated both einkorn and emmer wheats about 12,000 years ago, according to genetics and archaeological studies. African rice was domesticated from the wild ancestor Oryza barthii (Oryza brevilugata) by peoples living in the Benue-Niger floodplain about 3,000 years ago. Rice grain formed the basis of weight measurement from East Africa to Sulawesi. On Madagascar, the the weight of one grain of rice is called vary, and corresponds to the Swahili wari and to the Dravidian verasu. The common stem of these words indicates that these people kept written records of commercial weights.

The ancients observed that the seeds of plants that fall the to ground produce other plants. It was therefore logical and accurate to assume that the seed that should fall to the earth is the seed of plants, which spring forth from the earth. Likewise, the seed of man should fall on his own type (the womb), from which man comes forth. This was regarded as the divine-established pattern. Therefore, the ancients regarded both onanism (spilling of human semen) and homosex to be acts in violation of the order of creation. This is the ancient wisdom that based moral law on observed patterns in nature.

Animal Husbandry
Red and black Nubian cattle herders

Cattle were domesticated in what is today Kenya 15,000 years ago. The common term for cattle or cow in the many African languages is nag (Wolog, Fulani), nagge (Hausa), ning (Angas, Ankwe) and ninge (Susu). This corresponds to the Egyptian word ng or nag.

Cattle bones were found in graves of the elite classes at Hierakonpolis (Nekhen in Sudan) and cow skulls were used to mark the pan graves of the ancient Saharans. The oldest evidence of domestication of wild pigs is found at Nekhen, Maadi, Abydos, and Armant. Here graves belonging to the commoners, indicate that the diet of the lower classes included pork. Cows were also domesticated by the Nilo-Saharans, who even took them on their boats (see second image below).

Boats and cows of the ancient Nilo-Saharans

Sidereal Astronomy

Sidereal astronomy is real science based on observation of the arrangement and movement of the fixed stars and planets. This science originated among Abraham's Nilo-Saharan ancestors who had recorded information about the fixed stars and clock-like motion of the planets and constellations for thousands of years. By 4245 BC, the priests of the Upper Nile had established a calendar based on the appearance of the star Sirius that becomes visible to the naked eye once every 1,461 years. Apparently, they had been tracking this star and connecting it to seasonal changes and agriculture for thousands of years. The priest Manetho reported in his history (241 BC) that Nilotic Africans had been “star-gazing” as early as 40,000 years ago. They shared this knowledge with the kings of Egypt.

The ancient Egyptians shared the knowledge with the ancient Greeks. Plato claimed that the Africans had been tracking the heavens for 10,000 years. Plato studied with an Egyptian priest for 13 years and knew about Earth's Great Year, also called the "Platonic Year." This is the time of between 25,000 and 28,000 years that it takes for Earth to complete the cycle of axial precession. This precession was known to Plato who defined the "perfect year" as the return of the celestial bodies (planets) and the diurnal rotation of the fixed stars to their original positions.

The ancients were motivated to understand the celestial pattern because they believed that the order in creation was fixed by the Creator and they were concerned about trespassing boundaries or violating the order in creation. They believed "As in the heavens, so on earth."


The Edwin Smith papyrus is the world's oldest known surgical document (c. 1600 BC). It is written in the hieratic script of ancient Egypt and Kush and reveals a high level of sophistication in medical care. It gives detailed descriptions of anatomy, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of forty-eight types of medical problems. It describes closing wounds with sutures, preventing and curing infection with honey and moldy bread (both known to contain antibiotics), application of raw meat to stop bleeding, and treatment of head and spinal cord injuries. The Nubians also used antibiotics. Between 350 and 550 AD Nubians laced their beer with tetracycline.

Related reading: Ethics and Archaic Communities; Ancient Seats of Wisdom; Who Were the Wise Men?; The Wisdom of Yeshua Ben Sira; Plato's Debt to Ancient Egypt; Early Metaphysics: Primal substance and cause; The Urheimat of the Canaanite Y; Medical Care in Ancient Egypt; The Antiquity of the Edomite Rulers

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