We always think that technology is now at its highest peak and advancing rapidly, because the research restrictions that plagued it in the past, have been lifted. Yet, we constantly discover inventions of as far back as the ancient times that puzzle us, not only because we cannot understand how it was possible to create such things without the knowledge and sophisticated equipment that we nowadays have at our disposal, but also because, despite our advancement, we cannot even comprehend the underlying principles of inventions thousands of years old. And we have certainly not been able to recreate them.
Let’s take a look at some of these inventions:
1. Greek fire
Actually the original Greek term is “liquid fire” but since it is a term used in the Game of Thrones series, we needed to make a separation. The “liquid fire” depicted in the series is actually based on the original “Greek fire” which was used by the Byzantine navy against enemy ships.
The compound was used from the 7th to the 12th century A.D. and its use had the effect that the enemy ships burst in flames very rapidly and that this fire could not be extinguished with the usual means. It would require that the affected ships carried sand, vinegar, or large quantities of urine, to put it out.
It never became common knowledge what was the recipe for this compound, and up to now, all attempts to recreate it with the exact same properties have failed.
The substance was supposedly discovered by king Mithridates VI of Pontus, but it was refined by the personal physician of Emperor Nero of Rome. As described by Adrienne Mayor, Stanford University historian, in a study of 2008 with the title “Greek fire, poisonous arrows, scorpion bombs. Chemical and biological warfare of the ancient world”, mithridatium was a formula capable of counteracting any kind of poison.
According to Prof. Mayor, the original chemical composition was lost and Sergei Popov, who was a top biological weapons researcher of the U.S.S.R., before defecting to the U.S.A., attempted to recreate it unsuccessfully.
Some other researchers claim that the formula contained opium, chopped vipers and a combination of other poisons and antidotes, among other, unknown, things.
3. Archimedes “beam of light”
Everyone must have heard of the well-polished shields that Archimedes used to reflect the sun light and create a beam that managed to burn the Roman ships in Syracuse (Sicily, Italy). The famous “Mythbusters” Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, tried to recreate the circumstances and failed. Actually this is one of the inventions that the contemporary science managed to recreate, as, in 2005, MIT students managed to burn a ship in San Francisco, following Archimedes’ practices to the letter.
4. Damascus steel
Yet another of the ancient inventions depicted in the Game of Thrones series, this time as Valerian steel. Around 300 B.C. swords were made of a compound called Damascus steel which was derived from a raw material called Wootz. Swords made with this compound were especially strong and robust. Around 18th century A.D. this knowledge was suddenly lost.
Modern science says that it is quite impossible to forge such weapons before the age of the industrial revolution. The secret was discovered when the compound was put under an electronic microscope and with the use of nanotechnology. The premise is that other chemical substances were used during the construction phase, which created a chemical reaction at the quantum level.
How this was possible 2.300 years ago, without any knowledge of quantum mechanics, nanotechnology and highly sophisticated tools, still remains a mystery.
5. Vitrum Flexile
One could call it the “flexible glass”. History mentions its existence in three different occasions. The first is by Petronius who describes a scene when a glass artist presented Emperor Tiberius with a kind of jar that he could repair to its original state after it was broken. Emperor Tiberius had him beheaded as he feared that this discovery would reduce the value of precious medals. Pliny the Younger repeated the same story even though he stated that it might have not been totally true. 200 years later, a new version of the story was presented by Cassius Dio, who stipulated that the artist was a kind of magician who repaired the broken glass with bare hands.
How it is possible to put glass back together after it has been broken (or even cracked for that matter) and restore it to its original condition is anyone’s guess. Current technology has not managed to produce something even remotely close to it. A company called Corning introduced in 2012 a product called “Willow Glass” which is very flexible and is used in the construction of solar energy collectors. But even this compound cannot be restored to its original state when broken.
The inventions mentioned are just a sample of quite a big number of technological feats that are true and quite unexplainable by our current level of knowledge and understanding. Some would say that many of them may have been a result of a fluke or an accident. That may be so, but the fact remains that there are a lot of compounds and constructions that cannot be replicated to this day and no one can understand how something like that can be possible.
Another explanation may be offered by the actual existence of fictitious characters like Milo Rambaldi (actually based on Leonardo Da Vinci) and others that were forced to hide their inventions and genius, due to persecutions. Unfortunately, no such existence can be proven as all records have been meticulously destroyed by the blinded religious fanatics of the Middle Ages (mostly).