Melbourne Historical Journal
43.2 2015 (The Amphora Issue)
Technology has accompanied humans throughout our evolution, development and history. Human engagement with technology, in all its aspects, is somewhat symbiotic: although many animals create and use tools in their daily lives, only humans have integrated technology so completely, in a cyclical relationship.
Indeed, the entire archaeological paradigm of the ancient world is shaped by our ideas concerning technological development: the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages. These eras are defined by monumental jumps in humanity’s ability to manipulate our world through technology.
Concepts of technology and craftsmanship feature prominently in religious thought from many ancient civilisations, including dedicated gods such as Hephaestus in Greece, Ptah in Egypt and Ea/Enki or Mummu in Babylon. Technology (sometimes indistinguishable from magic) abounds in mythology, including stories about Talos, Daedalus and even the arks of Gilgamesh and Biblical myth.
The ancient world offers many instances of technology: metalwork for weapons, vessels, jewellery and coins; ceramic ware production; writing systems that enabled bureaucracies to develop and societies to flourish; architecture building the structures of daily life and of empires. There are also things that might not seem technological at first? Are the tools of ritual or ‘magic’ forms of technology? Personal objects—such as hair combs or other toiletry items—encompassed dual roles as both items of adornment and functional pieces
Fantastic automata featuring complex self-operating mechanisms are frequently described by Hellenistic authors and were used for a variety of purposes, including religious processions or display, practical reasons or for demonstrating scientific principles.The famous Antikythera mechanism, recovered from the bottom of the Aegean, may even represent the earliest known analogue computing device.
In warfare too, the continuous evolution of technology played an important role in the trajectory of civilisation. The introduction of technologies such as the Naue II sword, the compound bow, the chariot and the sarisa often heralded a complete revolution in battlefield tactics and contributed to the rise or fall of entire empires. The rapid development of defensive and offensive siege techniques during the Classical and Hellenistic period in Greece can be considered an ancient technological arms race.
No less important than archaeological material culture is the literature of the ancient world. From its very beginnings, text-based media have engaged with the possibilities and dangers of technology in myriad ways. Homer imagined technological innovations, retrojections and syntheses in epic; the plays of Aescylus, Sophocles and Euripides made repeated use of the deus ex machina; Roman novelists play with the technology inherent in magic and religion.
Contemporary technology assists us to not only understand the ancient past, but to communicate our ideas about it. Geographic information systems, global positioning systems, and ground penetrating radars have revolutionised archaeological fieldwork. Open access publishing and online pedagogy have changed the way we research, disseminate, teach and learn about the ancient world.Students have embraced the growth of digital humanities, which has provided access to previously hidden manuscripts, texts and even languages. Virtual reality reconstructions of archaeological sites, 3D printing, digital mapping software and interactive museum exhibits enable us to visualise what the ancient world looked like, allowing for greater public awareness of the work researchers are doing, and inviting contemporary interactions.
Much like today, for the ancient world technology was rarely just a functional element of life. Technology inspired, engaged, dissembled, destroyed and created. Technology has been, and continues to be, essential to human life.
Technology (43.2 2015)
Possession (42.2 2014)
Narrativization (41:2 2013)
Classical Re-conceptions (40:2 2012)
Cultural (Re)Constructions (2.2011)