The World's Oldest Elevator?

St. Catherine's Monastery. Note the "birdbox" elevator on the fortress wall. (ccarlstead/Flickr via Wikimedia Commons)
Have you ever been curious as to where the world's oldest elevator is located? One of the world's oldest elevators (if not THE oldest), is located at St. Catherine's Monastery in Sinai, Egypt!

This elevator is part of an elaborate system of fortifications built at the monastery when the Byzantine emperor Justinian had it constructed in 527 A.D. It was used to pull monks over the fortress walls and into the churchyard.

However, this elevator does not operate like the elevators we know and use today. This one is a pulley-operated elevator in which monks would hoist a person up into the wooden box! From there the visitor would enter the monastery and exit the same way.

In the modern age this elevator seems to have fallen into disuse with the introduction of new entrances into the monastery, but it still exists on the side of the fortress walls.

If you've ever been curious as to where the world's oldest elevator is located, this just might be it!

- (Website about St. Catherine Monastery)
-Article from Nov. 1911 issue of Popular Mechanics showing pictures of the St. Catherine Monastery elevator in use.

Donchō and His Journey to Japan

While not being an inventor, one person who brought a number of innovations to ancient Japan is the Korean monk and painter Tam-jing, or Donchō as he's known in Japanese. It was he who brought the art of paper-making and Chinese ink to Japan, and transformed Japanese society as a result.

Tam-jing hailed from the ancient Korean kingdom of Goguryeo (Koguryo) and was dispatched to Japan by the king of Gorguryeo in March, 610 (AD), some 60 years after Buddhism was introduced to Japan. According to the Nihon shoki, Donchō brought his knowledge of paper-making and painting with ink wash before the court of Empress Suiko. The paper Donchō introduced to the court was made in the traditional Chinese style, with hemp and mulberry bark.

After Donchō's demonstration of paper-making to the Imperial court, many Japanese studied and emulated Tam-jing's paper-making techniques and the art of paper-making spread like wildfire throughout Japan. In just 50 years, over 80 different types of paper were being made in Japan! Naturally paper became essential for writing as well as the ink wash painting techniques Donchō demonstrated to the court.

Another innovation Donchō introduced to Japanese society was the Mizuusu, or the first stone water mill in Japan. This mill used the power of a waterwheel just as the Chinese and Korean water mills did. The mill is mentioned in the Nihon shoki as being introduced by Donchō for irrigation purposes.

Finally, one enduring legacy of Donchō's visit to Japan is the interior decoration that, according to legend, he left in the main hall (or 'Kondō') of the world-famous Hōryū-ji temple in Ikaruga, Nara Prefecture.

Tam-jing may have visited Japan for only a short time, but his visit left a lasting impact that has lasted up to the modern age!

For more about Donchō and his contributions to Japan, check out these links:


Zhang Heng and the World's First Seismometer

A replica of Zhang Heng's seismoscope at an exhibition in Oakland, CA in July 2004 (Shizhao/Wikimedia Commons).
Over the last century or two, science has provided us many new insights into the forces that cause earthquakes. Many new devices such as seismometers have been developed that detect earthquakes and give us detailed information about an earthquake. But did you know one of the most efficient earthquake-detection instruments was developed almost 1900 years ago in ancient China?

This device is a seismoscope known as the Houfeng Didong Yi (候风地动仪, or "instrument for measuring the seasonal winds and the movements of the Earth" in English) and was invented by the Eastern Han philosopher and court official Zhang Heng. Zhang was a multi-talented man who excelled at mechanics and mathematics and was, among other things, a poet, cartographer, literary scholar, artist, and geographer.

At that time, most Chinese believed that earthquakes were a result of divine punishment for acts committed by the current ruling dynasty, as well as an imbalance between Yin and Yang. Zhang, however, theorized that earthquakes were caused by disturbances in wind and air.

It was this theory that led to the creation of Zhang's seismoscope. The seismoscope, which was approximately 1.82 (6 ft) tall, resembled a gigantic bronze urn with eight tubes shaped as dragons' heads around the top. Surrounding the seismoscope were four bronze toads which were positioned in the four directions. Inside the casing was a pendulum, a crank and right-angle lever, and some bronze balls. In the event of an earthquake, the pendulum would swing, the crank and lever would raise one of the dragons' heads, and the balls would drop out of the mouth of the dragon into the mouth of a bronze toad. This would create a large 'clang', which served as a warning alarm, and the toad indicated the direction of the quake.

Zhang presented his seismoscope to the Han court in 132 AD. According to records from the time, the device detected an earthquake over 600 km (372 miles) away from the Han capital of Luoyang in February 138. Also, the seismoscope is said to have detected a quake in Gansu province in 143, which was not felt.

Zhang and his seismoscope were given special mention in the Book of Later Han detailing the reign of Emperor Shun.

So could Zhang Heng's seismoscope be used to detect earthquakes in 2012. Most certainly! As a matter of fact, in 2005, scientists in Zengzhou, China (which was also Zhang's hometown) managed to replicate Zhang's seismoscope and used it to detect simulated earthquakes based on waves from four different real-life earthquakes in China and Vietnam. The seismoscope detected all of them. As a matter of fact, the data gathered from the tests corresponded accurately with that gathered by modern-day seismometers!

When Zhang Heng created his seismoscope, he created a device that was very advanced for the time and would still give accurate results and warnings almost two millinea later.

For more about Zhang Heng and his seismoscope, check out the links below:
Zhang Heng Wikipedia entry
Article from Xinhua/ about the modern replica of the seismoscope


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Hello and welcome to "History's Innovations"! This is a new blog, so be patient while I continue to set it up.

Some of the topics discussed in this blog, such as inventions from the Rennaisance and Greek eras, you may already know a great deal about and probably studied extensively in school. And there may be other topics you didn't know a whole lot about! That's nothing to be ashamed of since we are constantly learning, right? 

It's my hope that, in the pages of this blog, you'll learn more about various inventions, innovations, and discoveries that changed - and in some cases, continue to change - societies and the world as a whole, as well as the people who discovered or invented them. So sit back, read on, and enjoy!