Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Baffling Ancient Technology

By Matthew Zuk

The Lycurgus Chalice

Advanced technology is typically viewed as a modern phenomenon, something that Ancient Man did not possess. However, there are many mind-boggling pieces of ancient technology that prove the incredible intellect of ancient man and baffle modern man.

The Lycurgus Chalice

There have been many discoveries of ancient technology that confound modern historians, however this one is perhaps the most astounding. The Lycurgus Cup first came to light in the 1950’s and immediately puzzled archaeologists. The 1,600-year-old cup changes color based on where light hit it. It is green if the light comes from the front, and red if the light is behind it. [1]

Recent studies have led to the discovery of how this phenomenon occurred: nanotechnology. The Romans were apparently far better craftsmen than originally thought! The cup’s mysterious features are caused due to impregnating tiny particles of gold and silver into the glass. The Romans were somehow able to crush and grind the gold and silver to the molecular scale, fifty nanometers in diameter. That’s more than a thousand times smaller than a grain of table salt! Not only that, but due to the precise mixture of the precious metals it seems the Romans knew exactly what they were doing.[2] It is truly astounding! Never before has advanced technology of this scale been discovered in an ancient artifact; not even the Antikythera mechanism (more on the Antikythera Mechanism can be found here) compares.

However, the astonishment does not end there. Scientists replicated technology of the chalice in order to run more tests. The nanotechnology works as follows: when hit with light the electrons in the cup would vibrate in a way that made the chalice appear a certain color depending on the observers’ position. If liquid was in the cup it would change the vibrations which would thereby change the color of the cup. The prototype the scientists created was 100 times more sensitive to changes in salt levels in liquids than current commercial sensors with similar technology (for preservation purposes the original cup cannot be tested on).[3] Such a detection mechanism would have been very handy for the Romans to tell if someone was trying to poison their ruler.

Modern scientists are studying this cup in order to enhance our own nanotechnology detection systems.[4] Even today we can learn and improve our own technology with methods used 1,600 years ago! 
St. Ambrogio golden altar
Credit: American Chemical Society

Metal Coatings Unmatched Even Today?

Another fascinating and incredible discovery is the metal plating techniques used 2000 years ago that are so thin they cannot be matched by today’s methods. In an effort to preserve ancient artistry and artifacts a team of scientists led by Gabriel Maria Ingo have analyzed the methods used by ancient artists to create the masterful pieces of gilded art. In their research they discovered that the gilders had a variety of techniques, one of which used mercury as a sort of glue to apply thin films of metal to statues and other objects. This film of metal was so thin it surpasses what modern scientists use for DVD’s, solar cells, electronic devices and other products. These techniques were used throughout the “dark ages”; it seems that the artisans reached the point where they could not get any better during their time and cannot be matched today even with our sophisticated technology.[5]
The Parthenon in Athens, Greece

Ancient Man’s Unmatched Skill

There are other areas where we cannot match ancient man’s craftsmanship and ability. One example is the Greek Parthenon in Athens, Greece. The original was built in only nine years while the reconstruction process has been anything but fast. In the reconstruction process of the famed pillars we have been unable to match the skill of the Greeks. In the original there were seamless connections between blocks for the pillars. Each one was essentially the same and the indented curves were so precisely chiseled that with all our modern technology we cannot reach the same quality as the master craftsmen who built it.[6] 
Puma Punku

Inexplicable Construction Techniques

Other examples of unexplained ancient technology are the “drill” holes and precise cuts found in various structures around the world. These holes and cuts found in structures such as Puma Punku are so perfectly round, smooth, and straight that it seems it would require modern drills to achieve this feat. However at this point in time it is still unknown how they did it. 
Puma Punku
There are also precise cuts into extremely hard stone that would require diamonds. Examples of this can be found in Egypt as well as South America at sites like Puma Punku. How the ancient people built these structures remains a mystery; we would struggle to be so precise even with our modern machines.[7]


It is the technology and inexplicable building techniques that put on an incredible display of ancient man’s genius. Modern man has the view that we are far more intelligent and skilled than the cultures of the past. One of the reasons for this is due to the widely held belief in evolution. If evolution were true we would expect to be superior to those in the past because we would always be advancing. Instead we find that there are many things ancient man did that a) we cannot explain, b) we cannot match and c) we can learn from. That’s not what you’d presume looking from an evolutionary perspective.

However, from a biblical standpoint we would expect to find these things. Why? Because man was created by God to be highly intelligent; he was created in the image of God. Man lost some of this when the Fall took place because the Fall affected every area of our lives, including our intelligence. Since the Fall we have actually “devolved”, becoming less and less capable in our functions as sin takes its toll. Certainly we have more knowledge today, but that is due to amassing it over time, not necessarily because we have become more intelligent.

However, there is yet hope. For those who are saved we have heaven to look forward to! There God will make us perfect and sinless; the effects of the Fall will finally be taken away! How do we enter? By God’s incredible grace! God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross, paying for our sins! All we need to do is have faith in Him and repent of our sins and recognize Him as Savior. Relying on His work not on our own, it is only by grace that we are saved, it is not of ourselves. Christ’s work on the cross is truly amazing! Not only did He die to pay the penalty for sin, but He also imputed His righteousness to us, making us holy and righteous in God’s eyes! We serve an awesome God who gave a promise through His Son Jesus Christ. And we can trust Him because He is faithful to keep His promises!

[1] Merali, Zeeya. "This 1,600-Year-Old Goblet Shows that the Romans Were Nanotechnology Pioneers | History & Archaeology | Smithsonian Magazine." Sep. 2013. (accessed September 3, 2013)
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] American Chemical Society. "Ancient technology for metal coatings 2,000 years ago can't be matched even today.", 24 Jul. 2013. (accessed September 3, 2013)
[6] "Parthenon." (accessed September 4, 2013).
[7] Landis, Don. The Genius of Ancient Man: Evolution's Nightmare. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2012.


  1. Part of the vanity of contemporary culture is imagining we are the pinnacle of human development where in truth we may well be the base.

  2. Two separate claims seem to suggest the same astonishing conclusion: ancient peoples of Egypt and South America both had flight technology