Category Archives: Ancient History

MIrror

Did Archimedes Really Invent the “Death Ray”?

Among many great deeds we attribute to Archimedes of Syracuse, there are some which probably never happened. One of them, frequently appearing in many famous history books, is a myth that during the Roman siege of the city of Syracuse, Archimedes allegedly burned roman warships by sunlight, reflected by complex system of mirrors.

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Archimedes’ mirror burning Roman military ships(Giulio Parigi, 1600)

Modern engineers have proven during attempts to recreate this feat, that it’s impossible to burn ships with reflected sunlight, even when using present-time technologies. Even when the Mythbusters tested this myth in three full episodes of their show, they never achieved the desired effect of ships catching fire.

Greek historian Plutarchos, who depicted many other great inventions of Archimedes in his books, including catapults and special cranes, designed to drag roman ships to craggy coastal rocks, never mentioned the Death Ray in any way. It was mentioned for the first time in scriptures by Anthemius of Tralles, one of the architects of Hagia Sophia, and then another 600 years later in the Chronicles of the World by monk Johannes Zonaras.

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Archimedes(Domenico Fetti, 1620)

Nevertheless, fire-starting mirrors were well-known by Archimedes’s time. Romans themselves often used them to start ceremonial fires in temples, and we can’t rule out the possibility that Archimedes really thought about aiming them on enemy ships. But even if he had thought about that before, he would most likely dismiss the idea, because it was impossible to achieve with the technologies in ancient Greece.

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Boomerang

Did the Aborigines Really Invent the Boomerang?

According to available evidence, Australian aboriginal tribes weren’t the only ones in history to ever invent and use a boomerang. Boomerangs were already in use by ancient Egyptians about 4000 years ago, as a hunting weapon. In the same manner, they were also used by a number of indian tribes in North America(mainly Navajo).

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Painted boomerangs in Melbourne(Fir0002/Flagstaffotos)

Contrary to popular belief, primary advantage of the boomerang is actually not the well-known ability to return back to the thrower, but that the boomerangs usually fly much further when compared to straight, conventional pieces of wood. Most of the returning boomerangs were used just for practising, ”true” boomerangs used for hunting were never designed to return back to the thrower.

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Wall painting from ancient Egyptian tomb, depicting the usage of a boomerang-like weapon for bird hunting

Little Known Fact: If boomerangs always returned back, Australian army in the First World War would probably think twice before using boomerangs equipped with hand grenades in combat. You can still see some of these in the Australian Army Infantry Museum, Singleton.

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