Overview of Historical Inventions: Impacts & Consequences

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will take a look at important inventions in ancient history. We will explore their impact and see what kind of consequences they have had on the people around them.

Technology and Inventions

When you and I hear about technology, we usually think about things like computers and phones. But did you know that technology has existed since the beginning of history? Technology is simply using knowledge for practical purposes. Technology means using knowledge to make a task easier. Inventions are important pieces of technology. An invention is a new device or process created for a specific reason. Again, we usually think of inventions as things that make life easier. For example, a vacuum sweeper makes cleaning up messes easier, and the automobile makes traveling easier than walking. In this lesson, we are going to look at some important inventions of early civilizations.

Important Early Inventions and Their Impacts

Let's begin with one of the earliest and simplest inventions. Yep, you guessed it! The wheel! We all know what wheels are. We think of them as important to transportation. Most experts believe the wheel first appeared in Ancient Sumer in the 5th millennium before Christ. This would have been during the Neolithic Period, sometimes around 5,000 B.C. The Sumerian civilization was located in the Middle East between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in what is now modern-day Iraq.

It is believed that the wheel was first used to make pottery on a pottery wheel before it was applied to make vehicles like carts and chariots. The wheel was a very important invention. It made transportation much easier. By hooking wheeled vehicles to horses or other animals, people could haul large amounts of things like crops, grain, or water. And of course, chariots impacted the way wars were fought. Archaeologists have discovered numerous depictions of Sumerian battle carts showing the wheel in use.

An Ancient Sumerian depiction of a wheeled battle cart.

So the Sumerian civilization was on to something, because they also came up with another important invention called cuneiform. Cuneiform was a system of writing in which symbols were etched onto clay tablets. Cuneiform was initially based on a system of picture-like symbols, but over time it developed into an actual alphabet.

Cuneiform first emerged in the 4th millennium B.C. Cuneiform was an important invention because it allowed the Sumerians to communicate in written language. It also allowed them to record their history. For example, the Sumerians could record which years were good for crops, and which were not. They could write down stories and poems, which helped them have a sense of identity.

Another important invention of early civilization was bronze. Bronze is an alloy metal, made by mixing copper with tin or other metals. Most experts believe bronze became popular during the 3rd millennium B.C. The use of bronze to make tools and other products brought about what historians call the Bronze Age. The Bronze Age lasted from around 3200 B.C. to 1200 B.C. Bronze allowed early civilizations to craft stronger, better quality weapons and tools. It could also be used for decorative items like jewelry and vases.

A collection of bronze axe heads from the Bronze Age.

The Ancient Greeks developed a number of important inventions, as well. Their civilization was incredibly advanced. Democracy, modern science, the use of medicine, mathematics, and philosophy were all areas in which the Greeks made significant contributions.

The Romans, too, were an advanced civilization, which developed many important inventions. One of them was the aqueduct, which was a man-made waterway allowing water from distant regions to flow into cities and towns. The Romans developed a complex system of aqueducts to supply water to farmland, bathhouses, and even private homes. Some Roman homes were so advanced they even had what we would consider indoor plumbing! This invention helped contribute to the health and high standards of living in Roman society.

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