Main Science Year by Year. A Visual History, From Stone Tools to Space Travel

Science Year by Year. A Visual History, From Stone Tools to Space Travel

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Packed with fascinating discoveries and facts, this visual reference takes kids on a fantastic journey through time, from stone tools and simple machines to space travel and robots.
Easy-to-follow illustrated timelines of pivotal scientific developments explore the ideas, experiments, and technologies that have shaped our daily lives over the past 3 million years. With more than 1,200 images, in-depth explanations of key inventors and innovations, quotes from groundbreaking scientists like Marie Curie, and stunning «moment in time» images of key events such as the first human landing on the moon, kids are sure to be amazed on every page. Young readers can learn about the early understanding of gravity, the discovery of dinosaur fossils, the first open heart surgery in human history, and much more.
Created in association with the Smithsonian Institution, Science Year by Year will fascinate kids as they go on an amazing journey through time, tracing key moments in the history of science and technology along the way.
DK Children
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3 mya–800 ce



Before science

New ideas

The age of




3 mya–8000 bce
Farming begins
8000–3000 bce
Cave art
3000–2000 bce
2000–1000 bce
1000 bce–1 ce
Ancient architecture
1–800 ce

Medieval medicine
Roger Bacon
History of gunpowder
Leonardo da Vinci

Traveling through time
The earliest events in this book took place a very long time ago.
Some dates may be followed by the letters “mya,” short for “Million
Years Ago.” Other dates have bce or ce after them. These are short
for “Before the Common Era” and “Common Era.” The Common Era
began with the birth of Christ. Where the exact date of an event is
not known, the letter “c” is used. This is short for the Latin word
circa, meaning “round,” and indicates that the date is approximate.

Measuring things
Galileo Galilei
Paths in the sky
Healing people
Telling the time
Looking closely
Isaac Newton
Traveling the world
Celestial atlas
Studying weather
The Little Ice Age



1945–present day


The atomic age

Modern science




The code of life
Rachel Carson
Ear on the Universe
The space race
Changing climate
Stephen Hawking
A connected world
Snaps from space
A smashing time
N; anotechnology
2015 onward



Nature travels
Studying fossils
Understanding evolution
Calculating machines
Stephenson’s locomotive
The story of engines
Charles Darwin
Studying light
Powering our world
Louis Pasteur
Learning chemistry
Magnifying Transmitter

Taking to the skies
The story of the atom
Albert Einstein
Driving around
Marie Curie
Zooming in on the details
Periodic table
The Trinity Test

3 mya–800 ce
Before science began
The earliest scientific discoveries of our ancestors—such as the use of fire
and the start of farming—happened long before the first civilizations arose
around 4000 bce. Once people became settled, the pace of change quickened.
The Babylonians made advances in astronomy, the Greeks developed medicine
and mathematics, and the Romans led the way in engineering. After the fall
of the Western Roman Empire in 476 ce, however, much scientific
knowledge was lost for centuries.

3 mya ▶8000 bce

400,000 bce
Hunting with spears

The earliest musical
instruments found
are flutes more
than 40,000 years
old, made out of
bird bones and
mammoth ivory.

Around this date, early hunters began
to use wooden sticks as spears. These
tools had sharpened ends and could be
thrust or thrown, which meant prey
could be targeted from greater
distances. By about 200,000 bce,
stone points were added to
the spears, making them
more effective.
The oldest-known wooden
spears were found at
Schöningen, Germany.

790,000 bce
First use of fire

Human ancestors may have known how to
make and control fire as far back as 1.5 million
years ago. The earliest traces of domestic fire
are hearths at the site of Gesher Benot Ya’aqov in
Israel, dating from 790,000 bce. With fire, people
could cook and eat a wider range of foods.

3 mya

2.6 mya–250,000 bce

Early hunter
aims his spear




The first objects known to
have been purpose-made
by our ancestors were
stone tools. The oldest,
from Lake Turkana
in Kenya, date back
3.3 million years. The
toolmakers used one stone
to strike small flakes off
another stone, creating
a sharp cutting edge.
Tools made in this way are
described as “Oldowan.”

1: Stone
core is

2: Flakes
struck off
in a pattern

cutting tool

71,000 bce
Bows and arrows

Small stone arrowheads
found in South Africa
show that humans had
learned how to make bows
and arrows by 71,000 bce.
Such weapons were more
efficient than spears. A
person could carry many
arrows on a hunt and bring
down prey at long range.

3: Final shape
of tool emerges

Levallois technique
Around 325,000 years ago,
stoneworkers started using a
tool-making technique, now
known as Levallois. In this, they
cut flake tools in a deliberate
pattern from a stone core.

The Oldowan stone tools were fairly crude.
Then, around 1.76 million years ago, a new
method of working stone appeared. Known
as Acheulean, it involved flaking off two
sides of the stone to create a double edge,
and shaping the bottom to make it easy to
grip. Such tools are called handaxes.

Acheulean handax

Early arrowhead

18,000 bce
Pottery making

People made the first pots with clay, which
they shaped and hardened in a fire. These
vessels were used for cooking or storing
food. The earliest ones found, dated to
around 18,000 bce, come from China. By
14,000 bce, the Jomon people of Japan
were making pottery on a large scale.

Twisting flax fibers
made them stronger.

Mouflon, an
early breed
of sheep

34,000 bce
Earliest f lax fibers

Twisted fibers of flax (a type
of plant) found in a cave in
Georgia, in the Caucasus
region between Europe
and Asia, are evidence
that humans had learned
how to use plant fibers
to make rope or cord
by 34,000 bce. Some
of the fibers had been
dyed to look colorful.

8500 bce
Animal domestication

Early farmers began to keep and
breed animals, rather than simply
hunting them. The first species to
be domesticated in this way were
sheep and goats, which provided
a reliable source of food.
Jomon pottery
vessel from Japan


Narrow needles
with pointed end
for penetrating
animal hide

Wood cut away
from log to make
seating area

30,000 bce

10,500 bce

Bone needles

Domesticating plants

The use of sharpened bone
needles began to spread,
suggesting that people had
learned how to sew. There is
some evidence from China,
Africa, and parts of Europe
that simple bone needles
were used as early as
63,000 bce, although their
purpose is uncertain.

Farming began when
villagers at Abu Hureyra,
Syria, deliberately sowed
seeds of wild rye and einkorn
(a type of wheat). People
harvested these cereals as
an extra source of food that
could be gathered without
a long foraging trip.


8000 bce

From the terrace see the planted and
fallow fields, the ponds and orchards.
The Epic of Gilgamesh, a poem from Mesopotamia
(present-day Iraq) dating from c 2000 bce

See pages


First log boat

Humans must have used boats
to reach Australia around
50,000 bce, but the oldest
surviving boat, dating from
8000 bce, is a canoe found in
the Netherlands. Like many
early watercraft, it was made
by digging out a seating
platform from a large log.

The earliest boats
closely resembled
this Native American
dugout canoe.


Farming begins
Around 8500 bce, in southwestern Asia, people began sowing
the seeds of cereal plants close to their homes. This spared
them long trips to harvest the plants where they grew. At about
the same time, these first farmers domesticated (tamed) wild
goats, pigs, sheep, and cattle, selecting the best of them as
breeding stock to provide meat, milk, and leather.

2000–1000 bce
Squash, sunflowers,
knot grass,
small barley

Bigger and better corn
By about 9000 bce, villagers in Central America had
begun to domesticate the teosinte grass. This plant
had small cobs with hard outer shells that shattered
when harvested. The early farmers selected plants
with larger cobs that did not shatter and gradually
bred modern corn, or maize.

8000–3000 bce
Peppers, avocados,
corn, squash, beans,
cotton, tomatoes,
turkeys, ducks


Spread of agriculture

a wild corn

Wild boar


Tamer pigs
The first pig farmers were hunters
in western Asia. In about 7500 bce,
they began keeping selected wild
boar in captivity. Over time, they
bred the pig, a smaller and more
docile animal.

Plants and animals were
domesticated independently in
several different areas: western
Asia, eastern Asia, Central and
South America, eastern North
America, parts of Africa, and the
Indian subcontinent. Farming
then spread from these regions
across the world.

Tools for the harvest

Modern domestic pig

Farmers developed tools,
mainly sickles with curved
blades to cut the tough
stalks of crops. Early
blades were made of
polished stone but, as
metalworking evolved,
they were later made of
copper, bronze, and iron.

Tastier potatoes
The ancestors of the modern potato were
first domesticated in Peru around 8,000
years ago. They were bitter tasting, but
cultivation gradually produced improved
varieties with better flavors.

Wild potatoes
from Peru


Farm tools with bronze (left)
and iron blades

Key events

23,500–22,500 bce

14,000 bce

13,000 bce

Hunter-gatherers in the Middle
East harvested wild emmer (an
early type of wheat), barley,
pistachios, and olives. They
ground cereals with pestles.

Baked clay pots, essential to future
farmers, first appeared in China. But
by 14,000 bce the Jomon people of
Japan were the leading producers
of high-quality pots.

The first domestication of
an animal took place when
hunters tamed wolves, from
which all dogs descend. This
probably happened in several
areas at the same time.

Jomon pot



10,500–8000 bce


Wheat, barley, peas, flax,
lentils, goats, sheep, pigs,
cattle, donkeys



2000–1500 bce
Sorghum, millet,
African rice, yams,
sesame, peanuts


7000–6500 bce


Millet, cabbage, rice,
chickens, pigs, cattle


3500–2000 bce
Fava beans, taro,
yams, turnips, lychees,
bananas, sugarcane


6000–4500 bce


Potatoes, quinoa,
guinea pigs,
llamas, alpacas

Sites of early farming
(10,500–1000 bce)


Spread of farming

Settled farmers
With advances in farming
techniques, people gave up
nomadic lives to settle in
villages. The more reliable
food supply provided by
domesticated plants and
animals meant that
populations grew. Life
began to revolve around an
annual cycle of planting
and harvesting.

8500 bce

8500 bce

4300 bce

3500 bce

Large wild cattle, or aurochs, were
domesticated in western Turkey for
meat and milk. Over time they
were bred to be smaller and more
docile, similar to modern cattle.

Settled communities planted
emmer and einkorn (wild wheats).
At harvest-time, they kept the best
seeds to sow another season, and
slowly increased their yields.

The earliest paddy fields for
the wet cultivation of rice
appeared in China. Rice itself
had been domesticated around
3,000 years earlier.

Among South America’s
few suitable animals, farmers
domesticated the llama, its
close relative the alpaca,
and the guinea pig.



8000 ▶3000 bce
Reconstruction of Çatalhöyük
based on excavations

Research at the site of
Çatalhöyük has revealed
18 layers of buildings.

See pages

Pottery kiln
The kiln, an oven for
firing clay pottery, was
invented in Mesopotamia
(now Iraq). In a kiln, the
clay is placed apart from
the heat source. This allows
higher temperatures to be
kept up for longer, making
stronger pots than
earlier methods.

7400 bce
Earliest town

Built on a mound in what
is now southern Turkey,
Çatalhöyük was the world’s
earliest town. It was home to
between 3,500 and 8,000
inhabitants, who lived in
tightly packed mud-brick
houses. There were no
streets between the houses
and people moved around
on the rooftops, or by
using ladders.


6500 bce
Smelting copper

Copper objects, made by
hammering the raw metal into
shape, were by this time widely
used. People had first begun
working copper in 9000 bce.
The earliest evidence of copper
smelting—heating rocks
containing copper mixed with
other substances—was found in
Turkey, and dates from about
5500 bce (see p.18).


6000 bce
The ard plow

The earliest farmers worked
with hand tools, using hoes with
blades to make holes in the
soil for sowing seed. Later, by
attaching the hoe to a long pole
with a cross-beam, they created
the first type of plow, called the
ard. Developed in Mesopotamia,
the ard allowed larger areas to
be farmed and seed to be sown
more efficiently.

Spindle whorl
Around 6000 bce,
people in the Middle East
learned to make textiles by
twisting and pulling raw
wool or cotton on a thin rod,
or spindle. By fitting a
weighted disc called
a whorl to the spindle,
they could
spin faster.

5500 bce
First irrigation canals

Farmers at Choga Mami in eastern
Iraq dug channels to carry water
from the Tigris River to their fields.
These irrigation canals made it
possible to grow crops in areas
where there was little rainfall.


Ancient Egyptian tomb painting showing a
farmer working with an ox-drawn ard plow


Wooden model of
an Egyptian sailboat

3000 bce
First sailboats

The first boats powered by sails, rather than
oars, appeared in Egypt. Sails meant boats
could be moved fast by the wind, although
they still had oars for rowing against
currents or in calm conditions. Early
sailboats were made of wooden
planks bound together.

See pages

3500 bce

3200 bce

Invention of the wheel

First production
of true bronze

Wheels may have developed
from simple log rollers. Solid
wooden wheels, like the one
shown here, were invented
in Poland, the Balkans, and
Mesopotamia. They were
attached to a wagon with
a wooden axle rod.

5000 bce
in Europe

Across western Europe, people
began to build huge stone
structures called megaliths,
most likely for religious
reasons. Megaliths included
circles like Stonehenge
in southern England; rows,
such as at Carnac in France;
and tombs built with stones
inside or around them, such
as at Newgrange in Ireland.
Stone row at Carnac,
Brittany, France

Combining two metals creates an
alloy, which is often stronger than
the metals themselves. Craftsmen
in southwest Asia smelted copper
with tin to produce bronze, a much
harder metal than copper, and better
for making armor and weapons.



4100 bce
First cities

In Mesopotamia,
from around this
date, some large
villages and small
towns grew into
important centers of
government and
trade. Remains of
these early cities,
with their massive
palaces and temples,
can be seen at sites
such as Ur and Uruk
in modern-day Iraq.


3200 bce


Writing appeared around 3200 bce in Egypt and
Mesopotamia. As towns and cities became more
complicated to govern, writing allowed officials to
keep accurate records without relying on memory.

Sumerian cuneiform script
The Sumerians, early people of
Mesopotamia, invented cuneiform,
writing that used pictographs: signs
resembling objects. The wedge-shaped
script was formed by pressing a pointed
reed called a stylus into soft clay.

Egyptian hieroglyphs
Egyptians invented a complicated form
of picture writing called hieroglyphics.
The symbols, or hieroglyphs, could
be carved in stone, cut into clay, or
painted on papyrus (paper made
from reeds).




Cave art
People began painting on cave walls at
least 35,000–40,000 years ago, during the
Stone Age. This 9,000-year-old example is
from the Cueva de las Manos (Spanish for
the Cave of the Hands) in Argentina. The
forest of what appear to be waving hands
was created by blowing paint around each
hand, like making a stencil. Sometimes
figures were engraved on soft cave walls
with flint tools. Mineral pigments were used
to make paint. Iron oxide gave a red color,
manganese oxide or charcoal provided
black, and other minerals added yellow and
brown. Cave art techniques included painting
with the fingers or using animal-hair or
vegetable-fiber brushes.


Whether in cave paintings
or the latest uses of the
Internet, human beings
have always told their
histories and truths through
parable and fable.


Beeban Kidron (born 1961), English film director

Paintings of stencilled hands by children and adults, Cueva
de las Manos (Cave of the Hands), Santa Cruz, Argentina


2500 bce

3000 ▶2000 bce

First town map

The earliest known map was
produced in Mesopotamia
and shows a plot of land set
between two hills. The clay
tablet pictured here is the
earliest street map. It shows
the Sumerian town of Nippur,
including the River Euphrates,
the city walls, and a temple.

3000 bce
Standardized weights

As cities became larger, trading both locally
and with other cities became more complex.
Standardized weights were introduced in
Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) to ensure that
there was no cheating in the marketplace.
These were based on grains of wheat or
barley, which are all of similar weight.

Small model of an early Egyptian
boat. The original was found buried
near the Great Pyramid of Khufu.

Tablet shows
street map
of Nippur,
c 1500 bce

2500 bce
Steering oars

Rack holds the
oars in place

High stern
curves upward

Shelter for crew


The Egyptians referred
to the material called
faience as “tjehnet,”
which means dazzling.


3000 bce

Egyptian faience

The Egyptians perfected
the technique of creating
faience, a paste made of
crushed silica and lime. Its
attractive blue or turquoise
colors are created by the
addition of metal oxides to
the paste. When heated,
faience can be modeled like
clay to make statuettes and
other objects. It can also be
applied on top of other
materials as a glaze.


Boats in Egypt were steered by an oar or a pair of oars
attached to a vertical post. Later, the paired oars were
connected by a bar, and the system developed into
the rudder and the steering lever called the tiller.

Paired steering oars

2625 bce

2500 bce

Step pyramid of Djoser

Stones to Stonehenge

Early Egyptian tombs, called
“mastabas,” were rectangular
structures made of mud bricks.
The tomb of Pharaoh Djoser
(2630–2611 bce) was constructed
from a series of mastabas, one
above the other, each smaller
than the one below. This stepped
structure was the first pyramid
built in Egypt.

Neolithic people began to
erect the central stone circle
at Stonehenge (see pp.22–23)
in southern Britain. This was
probably a religious site
connected with the passing of
the seasons. Stonehenge had
already been of some importance
for several hundred years. Work
had first started at the site around
3100 bce with the erection
of timber and stone posts
within an earthwork ditch.

Ancient Egyptian
faience bead
necklace, 2000 bce

Tomb of
Pharaoh Djoser

2550 bce

Stone at the top
of the pyramid is
called the capstone.

Outer layer
made of polished,
white limestone

Around 2550 bce, the Egyptians began building much larger
pyramids than before, as tombs for their dead pharaohs.
Unlike the step pyramid, these were smooth-sided, and
made up of millions of stone blocks covered with a smooth
layer of limestone. The first was the Great Pyramid of
Khufu at Giza. Around 100 pyramids were built,
mainly over the following 300 years.
The 164-ft- (50-m-) long grand
gallery leads to the King’s Chamber,
the main burial chamber.
The pyramid may weigh
more than 5.5 million tons
(5 million metric tons).

How they were built
The Great Pyramid is made up of two
million limestone blocks, which were
quarried in the nearby desert and then
dragged to Giza on wooden rollers. It
was constructed one level at a time.
Ramps were probably used to transport
the blocks up to higher levels.




2400 bce

2100 bce

Invention of the shaduf

Development of the calendar

The shaduf, a device for raising water for irrigation,
was invented in Mesopotamia and later also used in
Egypt. It had an upright frame with a pole onto which a
bucket was attached. A farmer lowered the pole to scoop
up a bucketful of water from a channel. The shaduf was
then rotated and lowered again to tip the water into
another channel, often at a different level.

The earliest-known calendar is the Umma calendar
of Shulgi, devised by the Sumerians (people from
Sumer, now in southern Iraq). It had 12 months of
29 or 30 days, making 354 days in total. To keep the
calendar in line with the real 365.25-day solar year,
the Sumerians added a month every few years.

2200 bce

Ziggurat of Ur

Building of ziggurats

Wall painting of a peasant drawing water
with a shaduf, c 1200 bce

The people of Mesopotamia built the first
ziggurats: monumental, pyramid-shaped
temples made up of several layers connected
by stepped terraces. Ziggurats housed shrines
to the gods. Their construction involved huge
amounts of material and manpower.


From around 9000 bce, people began to use
naturally occurring metal for making tools
instead of stone, bone, or wood. Then,
craftsmen discovered how to melt out metal
from metal-bearing rocks by using intense
heat. First they worked with copper, then
bronze (a mix, or alloy, of copper and tin),
and finally, iron. As technology advanced,
tools and weapons became stronger and
more durable than before.

gold ornament
from a burial site
in Varna, Bulgaria

Earliest metalworking
Some metals, especially copper and
gold, can occur naturally as nuggets.
Around 9000 bce, metalworkers
discovered that hammering such
metals into thin sheets made them
hard enough to fashion into simple
objects, such as ornaments.

Bronze axhead with human
mask design, Shang Dynasty
(12th–11th century bce), China

Smelting copper
By about 5500 bce, people were extracting copper
from its ore (rock in which a metal is embedded)
by a process called smelting. This involved heating
copper-bearing rocks to high temperatures in
a furnace. The molten copper ran off and was
molded or beaten into shape while cooling.

Heat needed
to melt metals

2804°F (1540°C),
but melts at only
2192°F (1200°C) if
charcoal is added

Discovery of bronze
Metalworkers discovered
that adding another metal to
copper while it was at a high
temperature produced bronze.
An alloy, bronze is harder than
the original metals. At first, from
around 4200 bce, bronze was
made by adding arsenic to
copper. Then from 3200 bce,
metalworkers used a mixture
containing 12 percent tin.


1981°F (1083°C)


1945°F (1063°C)

heating copper


Crucible contains copper ore
that is heated until it melts
and releases copper.

With 12 percent tin,
it melts at about
1830°F (1000°C)

Key events


9000 bce

Cold-working of copper and gold,
by beating or hammering the pure
metals into thin strips or sheets,
was developed in the Balkans,
in southeastern Europe.



5500 bce

Smelting of copper was
discovered in the Balkans
and Anatolia. It spread
rapidly through the
Middle East and to Egypt.

4200 bce

3200 bce


2500 bce

Arsenic was added
to copper during
smelting to produce
a form of bronze.

Tin was added to copper
to produce tin bronze,
which is harder than
copper, and could be
used to make better
arms and armor.

Early iron production
created a metal that
was soft and easily
shaped, but did
not produce
strong objects.


Iron sheath and dagger
from Mesopotamia
(now modern Iraq)


Iron and steel
Although iron was smelted as early as 2500 bce, it
was later discovered that heating it with a carbon
material such as charcoal at a higher temperature
resulted in a much harder metal. This strengthened
iron, or steel, became common around 1200 bce in
Anatolia (present-day Turkey). The new process
allowed the production of stronger weapons and tools.

The first furnaces produced a spongy
mass of iron containing impurities
that had to be hammered out.
Around 900 bce, in China, furnaces
were developed that heated the iron
ore up to a higher temperature to
produce only pure iron. The molten
metal was poured, or cast, directly
into molds to make objects.
Outlet allows
gas and smoke
to escape.


Stone mold for
creating cast iron
objects such as
tools and weapons.

Clay furnace wall


There is a mine for silver
and a place where gold is
refined. Iron is taken from
the earth and copper is
smelted from ore.

Crushed metal
ore is placed in a
special container
called a crucible.


Bible, Book of Job, Chapter 28, verses 1–2

Molten metal runs
out of crucible
through a channel.

Charcoal fuel heats
up the crucible.

Gilded Roman
necklace with
stones, c 1st
century ce

The art of gilding,
or covering objects
with a fine layer of
gold leaf, was carried
out as early as 3000 bce.
In the 1st century ce, Roman
goldsmiths began to make
amalgam, a fine paste of mercury
and gold, which stuck better
to the surface it was coating.

Molten copper flows
through a channel
and is collected.


Egyptian mirror
made of copper

1400 bce

Pewter, an alloy of
copper, antimony, and
lead, was first produced
in the Middle East. It
was often used for
vessels and tableware.


1300 bce

Metalworkers added
carbon to iron when
smelting. This produced
steel, a much stronger
form of iron.


900 bce


100 ce

The process of producing
cast iron was discovered in
China. Using this technique,
metal objects were created
by pouring molten iron
into molds.

Roman metalworkers
created amalgam, a mix
of mercury and gold that
that made a more durable
material for gilding than
gold leaf.


fires from

2000 ▶1000 bce
1800 bce
Babylonian math

Scholars in the city of Babylon
(in Mesopotamia, now modern
Iraq) worked out a complex
mathematical system, which they
wrote in cuneiform script (see
p.13) on clay tablets. The tablet
seen here displays a version of
Pythagoras’s theorem. The text
shows the square root of two,
correct to six decimal places.

Clay tablet with an
earlier working of
Pythagoras’s theorem,
c 2000 bce

1800 bce
letter M

letter H

Earliest alphabetic script

Turquoise miners in Egypt’s Sinai
Desert developed the world’s earliest
alphabetic script. Now known as ProtoSinaitic, it was based on a version of
Egyptian hieroglyphs (see p.13), but with
each symbol representing a single sound.
Proto-Sinaitic consisted of consonants only.



1800 bce
The composite bow

1650 bce

Probably invented in Central Asia,
the composite bow was made by
bonding layers of horn, wood, and
strips of animal sinew. It was not only
stronger than bows made with just
one material, it also allowed archers
to shoot arrows further and with
greater force.

Studying Venus

The Venus cuneiform tablets,
compiled in the reign of the
Babylonian King Ammisaduqa,
are the earliest detailed records
of astronomical observations.
The text on the clay tablets
gives the times of the rising
and setting of the planet Venus
over a period of 21 years.

Around 1500 bce,
Egyptian glassmakers
discovered how to use metal
rods to dip a core of silica
paste into molten glass.
When the glass solidified,
the core was cut away,
creating the earliest
glass vessels.


Fish-shaped glass bottle for
ointments, c 1370 bce

1560 bce
The Ebers papyrus

One of the oldest medical
texts, this papyrus from Egypt
contains recipes for medicines
and describes ailments such
as tumors, depression, and
tinnitus (ringing in the ears). It
shows early understanding of
the heart’s role in the body’s
blood supply.


1500 bce
The halter yoke

As the use of wheeled vehicles spread, it became
necessary to find an efficient way of moving them with
animals. The invention of the halter yoke—a set
of flat straps stretched across an animal’s neck
and chest—allowed large weights to be
hauled. It also led to the development of
light chariots in Egypt, which could be
pulled by horses at high speed.
Mummified remains of Pharaoh
Rameses IV (died 1150 bce)

Halter yoke

Two horses attached
by their halter yokes
to a war chariot

1000 bce

The Egyptians invented mummification, a
way of preserving a dead body by removing
the internal organs and wrapping the dried
body in linen. Mummifiers reached the height
of their skills by 1000 bce. The process was
used mostly for royalty and the wealthy.

Bodies of fallen
horses and archers

1400 bce
The wood lathe

The lathe, a tool for shaping wood, was
invented in Egypt. In its earliest use, one
craftsman rotated the piece to be worked
using a cord or rope, while a second worker
shaped the piece with a sharp tool or chisel.

1400–1300 bce


The smelting of iron—extracting iron
from iron-bearing ores by heating to
a high temperature—was discovered
in the Middle East around 1400 bce,
and in India around a century later.
The iron produced was much
stronger and harder-wearing than
bronze, and was used in a variety
of tools and weaponry.
furnace lined with
stones or bricks
Air is blown in
with bellows
to increase
the heat.


Furnaces develop
The development of taller shaft furnaces in
Roman times enabled more ore and charcoal
to be fitted in. The waste slag along with pure
molten iron was drawn out at the bottom of
the furnace. The mixture of ore and charcoal
could be topped up periodically.
Vent for waste
gas and steam
to escape


Crushed charcoal
is mixed with iron
ore and heated.


Tall conical
furnace wall of
stone or brick

The air pushed in by the bellows
heated a mixture of iron ore and
charcoal up to around 2010°F
(1100°C), at which temperature
the iron separated out. A spongy
mass of iron was left behind,
which became hard when
reheated and beaten.

Hole to insert bellows
and draw out waste
and molten iron



Since Stonehenge, architects have always been
at the cutting edge of technology.


Norman Foster, British architect, born 1935



The monument at Stonehenge was erected in stages from
about 3100 bce, when the site consisted of earthworks
and posts. The building of the central stone circle, begun
around 2500 bce, was a massive feat of engineering for the
Neolithic people of Britain. Huge 22-33-ton (20-30- metric
ton) sarsen stones (a type of sandstone) were possibly
moved on log rollers from the Wiltshire Downs 19 miles
(30 km) away. It is unclear how the sarsens were pulled
upright at Stonehenge. Heavy stone hammers, called
mauls, were used to shape the stones and smooth joints
with the lintels. At a later stage, bluestones, each weighing
about four tons, were transported some 125 miles (200 km)
from the Preseli Hills of Wales, mostly by manhauling.

This is an aerial view of the central stone circle at Stonehenge in Wiltshire, southern England. Originally, almost all the
pairs of standing stones had a third horizontal stone called a lintel on top, but many of these have since fallen down.


1000 bce ▶1 ce
Around 450 bce, Empedocles of
Acragas (a Greek colony in Sicily)
had the idea that all matter is
made up of four basic elements:
earth, air, fire, and water.



c 2 is the area of the
square formed with
sides of length c, and
is equal to a2 + b2


a2 is the area of the
square formed with
sides of length a

600 bce

Cuneiform text


Oldest world map

Each circle
represents a city

700 bce

The oldest-known attempt to
create a world map was made
on a clay tablet in Babylon
(now modern Iraq). The tablet
portrays the world as a flattened
disc, surrounded by an ocean.
Babylon is shown as a rectangle
in the center, with eight other
cities indicated by circles.

b2 is the area of the
square formed with
sides of length b

530 bce

Pythagorean theorem

Greek mathematician Pythagoras was
interested in the mystical powers of
numbers. A version of the theorem named
after him was known to the Egyptians and
Babylonians, but Pythagoras was the one
who worked it out. It states that the sum of
the squares of the two shorter sides of a
right-angled triangle is equal to the
square of the longer side.




The screw pump was probably invented around 700 bce by
the Assyrians (people living in northern Mesopotamia, now
in modern Iraq). These people used it to transport water from
one level to another in the gardens of King Sennacherib, in
their capital of Nineveh. Centuries later, Greek mathematician
Archimedes may have seen it working in Egypt.
He applied its use to pumping water from
the holds of ships. This type of pump
came to be named after him.

Central spiral

Water is released
at the top

Screw action pulls
water upward

Archimedes of Syracuse
Archimedes (c 287–212 bce) had a vast range of
interests. As well as developing the screw pump,
he did important work on geometry, especially
in calculating the area of a circle. He is said
to have invented a heat ray by focusing
light on an array of mirrors.

How the screw works
Water enters an Archimedes
screw from the bottom. When
the central spiral of the screw is
rotated, water is pulled through it
and transferred to a higher level,
from where it exits the pump.

In his book Elements,
written around 300 bce,
Greek mathematician
Euclid established the
basis of geometry for
the next 2,000 years.

50 bce
Glassblowing in Syria

Paved road in the ruins of the Roman city of Pompeii

312 bce

420 bce

First Roman road

Naming atoms

Early Greek philosophers and
scientists thought hard about
what basic substance made up
the Universe. Democritus of
Abdera proposed that all matter
consisted of tiny particles that
could not be divided, which he
called atoms, the Greek word for
“uncuttable” (see pp.168–169).

The Romans built a huge network of
roads, beginning with the Via Appia.
Its construction started in 312 bce,
and the road connected Rome to
the southern Italian city of Capua.
The roads were generally built on clay
beds filled with loose gravel, and were
topped with paving stones or cobbles.
The high quality of the Roman roads
greatly speeded up communications
within the Roman Empire.


Roman glassblowers in the eastern
province of Syria discovered that a
more even flow of molten glass could
be achieved by blowing it through a
thin tube. This created higher-quality
and stronger glass, so vessels could
be made in more complex shapes
and lasted longer.


400 bce

The Antikythera mechanism is a
complicated ancient device with
toothed dials. It was discovered
in a shipwreck in 1900 and is
thought to be around 2,000
years old. The mechanism has
more than 30 gears, and was
probably used to calculate the
positions of astronomical
objects and to predict eclipses
of the Sun and Moon.



Yellow bile

100 bce

The Antikythera

Greek physician Hippocrates
developed the idea that the
body has four basic substances,
or “humors”: blood, phlegm,
black bile, and yellow bile.
Hippocrates taught that illness
was caused when the humors
were out of balance, a theory
proved to be incorrect.



The four humors


Roman blown-glass containers in
the shape of doves, 1st century ce

Black bile







People’s health was said to
depend on their mix of humors.

200 bce

Ancient Chinese compass with a
magnetized iron spoon as a pointer

Magnetic lodestone

The Chinese were the first to describe lodestone, a
naturally occurring magnet. They saw that rubbing
lodestone against iron magnetizes the iron. This
enabled them to create primitive compasses in
which an iron ladle or spoon pointed north.

Remains of the
Antikythera mechanism


Ancient architecture

Early building

Our ancestors made primitive shelters of wood as long ago as
500,000 bce. From around 9000 bce, they learned how to erect
larger buildings of stone. By 3000 bce, architecture and engineering
had advanced so far that it was possible to create monumental
structures such as pyramids, temples, and palaces.

Early architects used many different
materials, depending on how easily
available these were and how long
a building needed to last.

Mud-brick buildings
needed constant repair
and renewal, and were
practical only in areas
of low rainfall.

The outer wall is made
of travertine, a type of
limestone, while the inner
wall is made of concrete.

Although plentiful in
forest areas, wood was
at high risk of fire and
unsuitable for very
large constructions.

Stone was a strong
and durable material
for monumental
structures, but its
use depended on
suitable quarries.

Stone dwelling at Skara Brae

First buildings
Many early towns, such as Çatalhöyük in
Turkey (see p.12), had mud-brick houses.
Sometimes towns had protective stone walls,
such as those of Jericho in Palestine, built
around 8000 bce. Occasionally, houses were
made of stone, as at Skara Brae, a Neolithic
village built about 3200 bce on one of the
islands of Orkney, Scotland.

The pyramidal
temple of the

Temples and pyramids
From around 3000 bce, architects
became skilled enough to design
very large buildings. They knew
how to provide massive
support at the base of
pyramids, which were
common in Egypt and
Central America. Another
skill was building columns
that held up the roof of a
large temple while leaving
usable space beneath.

Key events

10,000 bce
Hilltop temple at Göbekli Tepe,
Turkey, was constructed. It is
the oldest-known large-scale
stone building.



2575 bce

The Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt, was
built as a tomb for Pharaoh Khufu. It
was the largest building in the ancient
world, containing 92 million cubic feet
(2.6 million cubic meters) of stone.

438 bce
Built in Athens, the Parthenon
was a temple to the Greek
goddess Athena, built mainly
in the Doric style (a traditional
column design). It was regarded
as one of the finest works of
Greek architecture.



The arch

An arch helps spread the weight of
the part of a building that lies above
it. The true arch was perfected by the
Romans after 200 bce, and allowed
larger and lighter buildings, while
using less stone or brick.

Triumphal arch
Having mastered
the true arch, the
Romans built longer
bridges, created
aqueducts to carry
water, and raised
domed buildings by
using an extended
arch as a roof. They
put up triumphal
arches to celebrate
the victories of their
emperors. The Arch
of Titus (c 82 ce) in
Rome is one of the
most splendid.

Corbel arch
The first arches, such as this Gate of the
Lions at Mycenae, Greece (c 1250 bce),
were corbeled. This means they were
built with layers of stone, each jutting
out further until they met at the top.
The design did not spread weight
evenly and corbel arches needed lintels
(horizontal blocks for support) below,
or reinforcement at the sides.

The Romans discovered concrete around 200 bce
when they found that adding lime to pozzolana, a type
of sand found near Rome, made it harden quickly.
Buildings made with concrete needed less stone,
which was expensive. Roman architects used
the new material for constructing enormous
buildings such as the Colosseum (72–80 ce)
and the Pantheon (118–125 ce).

Kerbstones at the
side of the ditch
give extra support

Finer sand and concrete
form the top layer

Layer of larger
stones and rubble
fills the ditch

Colosseum, Rome
Cross-section of a Roman road

Road construction
The Romans were excellent
engineers, and built a large network
of high-quality roads to link towns
within their empire. To make a road,
a ditch was dug and filled with layers
of rubble, then smaller stones, and
finally fine sand and concrete on top.
The most important roads were then
surfaced with cobbles.

The 80 concrete arches on
each story strengthened the
building and allowed crowds
of spectators to enter easily.


60 ce

The Pont du Gard is one of the
greatest Roman aqueducts, built to
carry water into the Roman town of
Nemausus (modern Nîmes). More than
900 ft (275 m) long, it originally had
60 concrete arches on three levels.

Pont du Gard,


126 ce

The Pantheon was built in Rome
by Emperor Hadrian. Its enormous
dome, 141 ft (43 m) high, is still
the largest unsupported concrete
dome in the world.

683 ce
The Temple of the Inscriptions was
completed at Palenque, Mexico.
A monument to its Mayan ruler
K’inich Janaab’ Pakal, it is the
largest pyramid structure in
Central America.


127–141 ce

1▶800 ce

Ptolemy’s astronomy

Greek-Roman astronomer Ptolemy
devised a model to explain the
movement of planets. His scheme
took account of the way in which
some planets appear to orbit
in opposite directions from others.
Ptolemy also worked out a system
for measuring the latitude and
longitude of places in the known
world, which made it possible to
create a world map.

c 25–50 ce
Medical encyclopedia

In the early years of the Roman Empire, great
advances were made in the field of medicine.
At the beginning of the 1st century ce, a writer
called Aulus Cornelius Celsus produced an
important encyclopedia entitled De Medicina,
which gave an up-to-date account of
medicine at the time. The work included
a description of surgery for kidney stones.

c 100 ce

100 ce


Around this date, true paper, as we
know it today, was invented by Cai
Lun, a Chinese court official. (A type
of paper had already been in use for
some 200 years.) Cai Lun made paper
by drying out a pulp of tree bark and
old rags on a screen, producing strips
that could be written on.

Later Latin edition
of Soranus’s work

Health for women

Soranus, a doctor from the ancient
Greek city of Ephesus, produced the
first major book on women’s health.
He wrote about childbirth and the
care of babies, including how to
make feeding bottles.
Ptolemy’s world map
(14th-century version)


As steam
escapes, the
sphere rotates.

c 50 ce

132 ce

Hero’s steam engine

Earliest earthquake detector

Greek inventor Hero devised a
large number of machines. His
steam engine, which he called
an aeolipile, used the force of
heated steam to make a metal
sphere spin around. It was
a clever idea, but never
put to practical use.

Steam rises
through tubes
Water is heated
in a container
to make steam.

Chinese scholar Zhang Heng built the
earliest-known seismoscope, an instrument
for detecting earthquakes. When an earth
tremor occurred, a pendulum inside
the bronze, jarlike machine swung
in the direction of one of eight
dragon heads attached on
the outside. The dragon’s
mouth released
a ball, showing
the direction
of the earthquake.

Dragon facing
the direction of the
earthquake drops a
ball into toad’s mouth.

Cut-away model
of Zhang Heng’s

Pendulum moves
because of an earth
tremor, operating a
crank that opens
the dragons’ mouths.



130–c 210 ce


Greek physician Claudius Galen,
who came from the city of
Pergamum (now in modern
Turkey), was one of the ancient
world’s most influential
doctors. He believed in
direct observation of
patients, including taking
their pulses. Galen saw
good health as the balanced working of all the
body’s organs, and was an expert anatomist.

In 250 ce, Diophantus of
Alexandria was the first to use
letters and symbols to show
algebraic equations in his
book Arithmetica.

The dome of Hagia
Sophia is 107 ft
(32.5 m) in diameter.

532–537 ce
Building of Hagia Sophia

The Byzantine Emperor Justinian asked Greek
architects Anthemius and Isidore to build the church
of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (modern Istanbul).
They set a round dome over a square base by using
curved triangular sections of stone called pendentives,
which strengthened the structure. Hagia Sophia
remained the world’s largest domed building for
about a thousand years.



475–499 ce

750 ce

Calculating pi

First written work
on the astrolabe

For hundreds of years, mathematicians had tried
to calculate the value of pi (the distance around a
circle, or circumference, divided by its diameter,
represented by the symbol π). In about 475 ce,
Chinese mathematician Zhu Chongzhi calculated
pi to seven decimal places and in 499 ce, Indian
mathematician Aryabhata estimated it to be 3.1416,
which is correct to four decimal places.



ce (


π = C/d
628 ce

Negative numbers

Indian mathematician Brahmagupta was
the first to set out rules for using negative
numbers in calculations. These included
the rule that multiplying two negative
numbers gives a positive number.

The astrolabe, invented around
100 bce, was a device with
movable circles used by ancient
astronomers to calculate the
positions of the Sun and stars.
In the 8th century, it was
greatly developed by
Islamic astronomers,
and one of them,
al-Fazari, wrote
the first-ever
work on
the astrolabe.

are portable.

Face adjusts
to show
of sky at
a given time.

Medieval Arabic brass
astrolabe, dating
from around 1100



Perhaps the greatest thinker of his time, Greek philosopher
and scientist Aristotle (384–322 bce) had huge influence in the
ancient world. Later, in the Middle Ages, his work was very
important to Islamic scholars, through whom it then reached
Europe. Aristotle’s astonishing range of studies included
logic, politics, mathematics, biology, and physics.
Alexander’s tutor
In 343 bce, King Philip II of Macedon, Greece,
invited Aristotle to tutor his son, later Alexander the
Great. Aristotle taught him for many years. Alexander
carried with him on his campaigns a copy of the Greek
epic poem The Iliad given to him by Aristotle.


Man is much more a political
animal than any kind of bee or
herd animal.


Aristotle, Politics

A stationary Earth
formed the center of
Aristotle’s Universe.

Early philosophers
Long before Aristotle’s time, Greek philosophers such as Anaximenes
of Miletus (who died in 528 bce) had looked for scientific explanations
for what went on in the natural world. For instance, they came up
with various theories on what substance made up the Universe
(Anaximenes thought it was air).
At the Academy
In his teens, Aristotle went to study at the Academy in the city of
Athens, a school founded by the Greek philosopher Plato (427–347 bce).
Plato himself was a former student of Socrates (c 470–399 bce), another
great Greek thinker. Plato had many ideas, still discussed today, about
what is real and what exists just in our minds. Aristotle, however, had
a more practical outlook and learned to reason things out. He was
greatly interested in understanding nature and classifying the
differences between animals.
Politics and society
Aristotle was also interested in people and politics. He called people
“political animals,” best suited to living in a society, ideally a city-state
like Athens, rather than alone. He later founded his own school, the
Lyceum in Athens, and became famous as a teacher.

Each planet was
thought to sit on
a sphere.

Model of Aristotle’s Earth-centric Universe
Astronomical theory
Aristotle believed that Earth was situated at the
center of the Universe. He suggested that the other
heavenly bodies, such as the Sun and the planets,
orbited Earth on concentric spheres.


Aristotle’s legacy
Aristotle’s works were
rediscovered in western
Europe in the 12th and
13th centuries. His ideas
influenced theologians
(people who study God and
faith) such as Thomas Aquinas
(1225–1274) and his works on
politics were widely read. This
manuscript is a French translation
of Aristotle’s work Politics by the
scholar Nicholas of Oresme.

Page from Aristotle’s
Politics illustrating
workers in the fields.


Aristotle with Plato
The School of Athens, a fresco in
the Vatican by Italian Renaissance
painter Raphael, portrays many
famous philosophers of Ancient
Greece. Plato (left) and his pupil
Aristotle (right) are in deep debate.


In the sea, there are… objects…
which one would be at a loss to
determine whether they be animal
or vegetable. [Some] are rooted and
[may] perish if detached.
Aristotle, History of Animals



New ideas
For much of the Middle Ages, China, India, and the Islamic world led the way in
science, with advances in mathematics, medicine, engineering, and navigation.
Europe began to catch up when translations of Ancient Greek and Roman
works, held in Arabic libraries but long lost elsewhere, arrived in the West. In
the 15th century, the rediscovery of this knowledge inspired the Renaissance,
a period of new interest in classical arts and thinking. As old ideas were
revisited and questioned, science in Europe took great steps forward.

800 ▶945
Woodblock printed page
from the Diamond Sutra

The Diamond Sutra

Gathering of scholars at the
House of Wisdom, Baghdad


The House of Wisdom

The Bayt al-Hikma, or House of
Wisdom, was founded in Baghdad
(now in Iraq) in the early 9th century. It
housed an enormous library and was
used by scholars working on translating
Greek scientific texts into Arabic.

In the 9th century,
the Chinese invented the
technique of printing books
using single carved wooden
blocks for each page. The
Diamond Sutra, a Buddhist
religious text discovered in
1907, is the oldest complete
example of a book produced
in this way. One of the pages
bears its date—May 11, 868.

In 843, Irish theologian John
Scotus Eriugena suggested that
the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars,
and Jupiter orbit the Sun.


Birth of algebra

The Arab mathematician
al-Khwarizmi published a
book describing the type of
mathematics now known as
algebra. He introduced an
important idea for working
out equations, although he
did not use letters to represent
numbers as modern
mathematicians do.

Statue of
in Uzbekistan

al-Kindi’s numerals

Abu Yusuf al-Kindi, an Arab
mathematician and scholar
from Basra (now in Iraq),
wrote hundreds of books.
Among them was his work
on Indian numerals (on
which modern numerals are
based), which he introduced
to the Islamic world. He also
devised new techniques in
code-breaking, and wrote on
the theory of parallel lines.


Ancient Chinese
soldier prepares to
fire arrows propelled
by gunpowder.

Discovery of gunpowder


In the mid-9th century, Chinese alchemists
were searching for an elixir of life using
saltpeter. They found instead that when
this chemical was mixed with sulfur and
charcoal, it created an explosive substance:
gunpowder. Within 50 years it was being
used to propel rockets (see p.53).


c 854 –925


Born in Rayy (now in Iran),
al-Razi was one of the Arabic
world’s greatest physicians.
He was the first to describe
hayfever and the symptoms of
smallpox. Unlike most doctors
of the time, he did not support
the theory that an incorrect
balance of body fluids
known as “humors”
affected health.


al-Razi with an assistant in his laboratory


Classifying elements

Development of zero

Although mathematicians had worked
out problems involving the use of zero,
there was no symbol for it before the
9th century. An inscription dated 876
from Gwalior, India, contains the first
known use of a symbol for zero in
describing the dimensions of a garden.
Its appearance allowed the development
of a full decimal system for numbers.

Movable plates adjust the
astrolabe’s alignment and
help the user to calculate the
positions of astronomical objects.


We should not
be ashamed to
acknowledge the
truth or to acquire
it, wherever it
comes from.


al-Kindi, Arabic mathematician
and philosopher, c 800–873

Star pointer
shows the
position of a
particular star.

Interested in alchemy (medieval chemistry), al-Razi devised
a system for classifying elements. He divided substances into
spirits, metals, and minerals, noting what happened to each
when it was heated or subjected to chemical processes.

the sky
A device called an
astrolabe helped ancient
astronomers to calculate the
positions of stars and other
objects in the sky. Around
920, an Arab astronomer,
al-Battani, worked out the
complicated calculations
needed to use
the astrolabe.

Ring represents
the pathway of the
Sun through the sky.



Tools of the trade

The practice of human dissection—cutting
open bodies for examination—dates from
around 300 bce. This was when Ancient
Greek physicians began to gain a true
understanding of how the human body
works. The study of anatomy declined
after the collapse of the Roman Empire
in the 5th century. It was not until the
15th century that there was renewed
interest, leading to the influential work of
Flemish-born anatomist Andreas Vesalius
in mapping the human body.

By the Middle Ages, anatomists and
surgeons possessed a variety of tools.
The German surgeon Hieronymous
Brunschwig (c 1450–1513) produced
a widely read work, The Book of
Surgery, which gave advice on how
to make cuts and included the first
account of treating gunshot wounds.

This woodcut is from Brunschwig’s
Book of Surgery, showing his
collection of surgical tools, which
included scissors, forceps, and saws.

Leonardo studies the body
Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci
(1452–1519) (see pp.58–59) took a
keen interest in anatomy and in
making accurate drawings of
the human body. To gain firsthand knowledge, he attended
public dissections. His
observations enabled
him to produce a series
of astonishingly detailed
anatomical sketches.


First anatomical prints
The invention of printing allowed wider
distribution of anatomical images, such
as this 1493 woodcut of a skeleton by
French physician Richard Helain. It has
inaccuracies, such as an over-large
pelvis, and too many teeth.



Leonardo learned much
anatomy by dissecting
animals, probably using
the organs of a pig to
make this study.

Key events


500 bce

300 bce

Greek writer Alcmaeon of Croton
stated that the brain is the center
of intelligence. He discovered the
optic nerves and performed the
first dissections of animals.

Known as the “father of anatomy,”
Herophilus, a Greek from Chalcedon
(now in Istanbul, Turkey) understood
the difference between veins and
arteries, and performed the first
public human dissection.



Roman doctor Rufus of Ephesus
wrote On the Names of the Parts
of the Human Body, the first work to
give a detailed list of anatomical
body parts.



Greek physician Galen (see
p.29) described the structure
of many body parts, including
the brain, nervous system,
and heart, and showed that
arteries carry blood.


Anatomical theaters

Vesalius’s drawings

It was the work of Italian doctor Mondino da Luzzi of Bologna
University (c 1270–1326) that paved the way for public dissections.
He was the first physician since ancient times to teach anatomy to
medical students. Eventually, special dissecting rooms, or “theaters,”
became a feature of European universities. One of the earliest
theaters was built at Leiden, in the Netherlands, in 1594.
Skeletons circle a dissection in this fanciful early 17th-century
engraving of the anatomy theater at Leiden University.

Flemish physician and anatomist Andreas
Vesalius (1514–1564) studied medicine at
the University of Padua, in Italy, and went
on to teach there. Realizing that many of
the ideas of ancient anatomists had been
wrong, he took a closer look at the human
body, and produced many superbly
accurate drawings. These were published
in his famous book De Humani Corporis
Fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human
Body). The quality of Vesalius’s anatomical
drawings was higher than anything ever
seen before. His work was the beginning
of modern anatomy.

This page from Vesalius’s great atlas
of the human body describes various
aspects of the nervous system.

Many details
shown in Vesalius’s
drawings of the
brain had been
ignored by earlier



Arabic physician Ibn al-Nafisi
discovered the pulmonary circulation
(the system by which blood reaching
the left side of the heart passes first
through the lungs).



Jacob Berengar of Carpi, Italy,
described two hormoneproducing organs: the pineal
gland and thymus gland. He
also gave an account of the
structure of the brain.



Vesalius’s De Humani Corporis
Fabrica was published, the first
complete and detailed atlas
of human anatomy.

English physician William
Harvey gave the first correct
description of the heart’s role
in the circulation of blood
around the body.

Heart and blood vessels



945 ▶1045

980 –1037

Zhang Sixun’s
mechanical clock

Zhang Sixun, a Chinese
astronomer, created an
advanced mechanical clock
powered by a waterwheel,
which completed a full
revolution every 24 hours.
Every two hours, mechanical
jacks emerged from inside
the mechanism carrying
tables that showed the time.


The Arab scholar Ibn Sina (also known
as Avicenna) lived in Central Asia. He wrote
more than 400 books on such
subjects as philosophy, medicine,
psychology, geology, mathematics,
and logic. From direct observation,
he deduced that Venus is closer
to Earth than the Sun. He
also developed a theory
of earthquakes and their
role in the formation
of mountains.


Canon of Medicine

Ibn Sina’s Canon of
Medicine was one of the
most important medical
books in Europe and Asia
during the Middle Ages. In it,
he showed how Aristotle’s
view that there were four
causes of disease could be
made to agree with the
theory that four humors
(fluids) make up
the human body.


Decimal numbers first appeared in
Europe in the manuscript Codex
Vigilanus, written by Spanish monks
in 976. Knowledge of decimals had
spread from the Arab world.

Sheng Hui Fang

Chinese physicians
compiled many manuals
for drug recipes during
the early part of the Song
Dynasty (962–1279). One
of the most important of
these was the Sheng Hui
Fang, put together under
government orders and
containing 16,834
medicinal recipes.

Ibn Sahl’s work on refraction

Persian mathematician Ibn Sahl was interested in
the refraction of light (its change in direction when
it passes from one material to another). In his work
On Burning Mirrors and Lenses, written in 984, he
concluded that the amount of light that is refracted
is different for each material.

in Europe
The French scholar
monk Gerbert of Aurillac
introduced the abacus to
Europe in about 990. As a rapid
way of making calculations,
it was useful to astronomers,
and merchants.


This modern abacus
is very similar in
design and function
to the devices used
1,000 years ago.

Page from Ibn Sahl’s manuscript illustrating light refraction

Optic nerve
transmits light
pattern to the brain.
A liquid called aqueous humor
keeps eye’s shape and provides
nutrition for the cornea.

Top view

“fish” needle

Rim of bowl

Anatomy of the eye from
a 16th-century edition of
Alhazen’s work

Cornea helps focus
light into the eye.

Alhazen’s optics

Arab scholar Ibn
al-Haytham (or Alhazen)
wrote a seven-volume
book, Kitab-al-Manazir—an
important work on optics.
In it, he suggested that
vision occurs when light is
emitted from objects into
the eye (and not by rays
coming from the eye, as
was believed previously).


Early Chinese compass

Although the Chinese had long
understood that lodestone (an iron ore)
could magnetize objects, the first use of
a compass, with a magnetized needle
that pointed to the south, came in 1044.
Early compasses consisted of a thin
piece of metal floating in water, like
the “south-pointing fish” seen here.


Water on which
needle floats

Side view






Around 1044, Bi Sheng, an otherwise obscure Chinese
alchemist, invented a method of printing that employed
movable clay blocks bearing impressions of letters.
Previously, books had been printed using carved wooden
blocks for each page, which could not be altered. The new
method meant the blocks could be rearranged to create
new pages, making printing much quicker.
Setting type
Bi Sheng baked his clay
letters until they were hard
and durable and then placed
them on an iron frame, with
the lines divided by iron
strips. The letters were fixed
in place by a paste of pine
resin and wax, and then
dipped in ink before the
whole frame was pressed
against paper.

Clay blocks
Each block of Bi Sheng’s clay type had one Chinese
character. Metal type, far longer lasting than clay
or wood, appeared in Korea in around 1224.


For printing hundreds
or thousands of copies,
it was marvelously


Shen Kuo on Bi Sheng’s movable type,
Dream Pool Essays, 1088



“Preparing Medicine from Honey,” an illustration from a 13th-century Arabic translation of De Materia
Medica, a book by Greek physician Dioscorides (c 40–90 ce) describing hundreds of drug remedies.


A great deal of medical knowledge was lost
when the Roman Empire fell in the 5th century ce.
Remnants survived mostly in areas that became
part of the Islamic empires after the 7th century.
Islamic scholars translated classical medical
texts into Arabic and introduced new ideas.
From about 1050, word about Arabic medical
writing filtered into Europe through various
centers of learning, including Salerno in Italy
and Toledo in Spain. Techniques such as the
washing of wounds and the use of early
anesthetics spread. In 1316, Italian physician
Mondino da Luzzi wrote the first anatomy
textbook in Europe since Roman times.


Nor may a subdeacon, deacon,
or priest practice the art of surgery,
which involves cauterizing
[treating damaged tissues by
burning] and making incisions.


Decision of the Fourth Lateran Council
prohibiting Christian clerics from carrying out
surgery, 1215. (Many medieval clergymen practiced
medicine, but they were forbidden to shed blood.
The rule was originally intended to stop
them fighting in war.)


Halley’s comet

The appearance of Halley’s comet just before the
Norman defeat of the English at the Battle of Hastings
was later explained as the cause of the disaster.
Having no real explanation for comets, people
generally believed they were evil omens.

Constantine the African lectures
at the school of Salerno, Italy

Medical writings spread
Around this date, Constantine the
African, a North African Muslim
who converted to Christianity,
collected Arabic medical
manuscripts such as Haly Abbas’s
Complete Art of Medicine. He
translated these at the medical
school at Salerno in Italy and
helped spread Arabic medical
knowledge to Europe.

In 1121, philosopher Abu’ l-Barakat of
Baghdad proposed that the more force applied
to an object, the greater its acceleration.

1045 ▶1145

In the Bayeux Tapestry (c 1080) people point at the comet



Jia Xian’s
version of the
pattern called
Pascal’s triangle



Sighting of Crab Nebula

Translation of
Ptolemy’s Almagest

On July 4, Chinese astronomers
noticed a new star so bright it
could be seen in daylight. They
called it the “guest star.” What they
saw was a supernova (exploding
star), whose collapse, caused by
extreme gravity, formed the cloud
of debris in outer space that we
now call the Crab Nebula.

When Christian Spanish king Alfonso VI
captured Toledo, which had been under
Islamic rule, the city became a center
for the translation of Arabic scientific
works into Latin. One of the most
important was Ptolemy’s great work
on ancient astronomy, the Almagest.


Pascal’s triangle

The Chinese mathematician
Jia Xian created a version of the
number pattern that today we
know as Pascal’s triangle, in which
each number is the sum of the
two numbers above it. This
found later use in calculations
involving probability.



An image of the fast-rotating
Crab Nebula from NASA’s
Chandra X-ray observatory.

compass described

Spoon-shaped, lodestone
compasses had been used in China
since around 200 bce. In 1088 ce,
the Chinese scholar Shen Kuo gave
the first description of a compass
with a magnetized needle. He
included it in his work Dream Pool
Essays, which also contained a
discussion of fossils. By the early
12th century, Chinese ships were
navigating by compass.


Al-Khazini devised a model
of the balancing point of a
beam, which depended on
weights and their distance
from a center point.

Tapered tang connects
beam and cross-piece
at center point.

c 1048 –1131


Persian poet and philosopher Omar Khayyam
was also a talented mathematician and
astronomer. By the age of 25, he had written an
important work on music and one on algebra.
Later, translations of his poetry made him
famous in the West, but in the Islamic world of
his time, he was famed as a scientist. In 1073,
the ruler of Persia, Malik Shah, invited him to
set up an observatory in Isfahan. There Omar
Khayyam made many important observations
and compiled a set of astronomical tables.

Knob and threads secure
beam to cross-piece,
allowing it to swing freely.

(2-m)- long metal
beam with scale

Movable weight
suspended from
beam by steel ring.

Length of a year
While at Isfahan, Omar
Khayyam calculated the
length of the year to be
365.24219858156 days. This
is correct to five decimal places
and shows remarkably precise
measurement, considering the
astronomical instruments
available to him.

Theories of balance and gravity

The Arab scholar al-Khazini published a work on
balance and equilibrium. In it he put forward a version
of the theory of gravity, stating that the weight of a
heavenly body depended on its distance from the
center of the Universe.


Key translation

English philosopher Adelard of Bath
traveled widely in Italy, Sicily, and the
Middle East, becoming familiar with the
works of Arab scholars. He translated the
famous mathematician al-Khwarizmi’s
Astronomical Tables of Sindhind, spreading
knowledge of them to western Europe.

Book on algebra

Chinese grid map

A map carved on a stone tablet in
Sichuan, China, made the first known
use of grid squares to show scale.
Known as the Jiu You Shouling tu,
it has around 1,400 place names
and is a sign of how sophisticated
Chinese mapmaking had become.


the world
See pages

In his book on algebra,
Omar Khayyam used
geometrical methods
to solve cubic and
quadratic equations.
He turned the
numbers in the
equations into
curves and found
the solution where
they intersected.
This technique was
very advanced for
its time.

Seeing the abundance of books in
Arabic… he learned… Arabic…
in order to translate them.


Life of Gerard of Cremona (an Italian scholar), c 12th century


Many ancient peoples, such as the Maya of Central America,
the Chinese, Indians, and Babylonians, tried to make sense
of the motions of stars and planets. From the 4th century bce,
the Greeks developed models to explain why planets changed
position in the sky. Not until the 16th century did astronomers
realize that the Sun, not Earth, is the
center of the solar system.
Ruins of the ancient
El Caracol (“Snail”)
observatory, Mexico

Ancient observatories
The Maya, whose culture was at its peak from 250–900 ce, built
observatories, such as El Caracol (“Snail,” named for its shape) at
Chichén Itzá, in Mexico. They accurately calculated the length of
the year and recorded the movements of the planet Venus.

In the 13th century, English
monk Johannes of Sacrobosco
reproduced calculations made
by the astronomer Ptolemy of
Alexandria in the 2nd century ce.
These showed how the movement
of the Moon in front of the Sun
causes an eclipse.
Solar and lunar eclipses, from
Sacrobosco’s book De sphaera
mundi (Sphere of the World)
Astronomers using astrolabes, in the
The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, 1356

Key events


500 bce

Babylonian astronomers created
the zodiac, dividing the sky into
12 equal zones through which
the Sun and the planets appeared
to travel.



350 bce

Eudoxus of Cnidus, a Greek
mathematician, devised the first
model of the solar system based
on concentric spheres. He used
27 spheres, several for each planet,
to explain irregular orbits.


280 bce

Aristarchus of Samos suggested
that Earth orbits around the
Sun. Fellow Greek
astronomers and
scholars criticized his
ideas, which were
not accepted.


240 bce

Eratosthenes of Cyrene
(now in Libya) accurately
measured the circumference
of Earth by comparing
shadows cast by the Sun
in two different locations.


Ideas from the East

The Ptolemaic system

Medieval astronomers in India
developed highly sophisticated
mathematical tools for making
astronomical calculations. Around
525 ce, the Indian mathematician
Aryabhata put forward the idea that
Earth rotates on its axis, correctly
explaining the apparent movement
of the stars. Much of this knowledge
passed to astronomers in the Islamic
world, who improved on existing
theories and refined calculations
of how the planets moved within
spheres. They also perfected the use
of devices called astrolabes, which
allowed them to measure the
positions of the Sun and stars.

Planets orbit
the Sun

Sky divided into
12 zodiacal zones

Brass armillary sphere,
made in Italy, 1554

Early Greek astronomers explained the
movements of planets by suggesting
they orbited within concentric spheres
around Earth. This theory was worked
out in detail by Ptolemy of Alexandria
(c 100–170 ce). To explain oddities in
planetary motion, he used a system
of epicycles (small circles) within
which planets revolved, while at the
same time orbiting in larger spheres
around Earth. Complicated models,
called armillary spheres, were made
to illustrate Ptolemy’s system.

Refracting telescope

In 1609, the Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei built
a telescope. He was not its inventor, but he was the first
person to use a telescope for astronomical purposes.
Its greatly increased
magnification meant
Galileo was able to
discover four new
satellites of Jupiter
and to study
sunspots for
the first time.

Galileo with his
telescope, c 1620
Objective lens
bends light rays


Eyepiece lens


The Copernican Universe, Dutch
engraving, 17th century

The Copernican Universe
Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus
(1473–1543) disagreed with Ptolemy’s
views on the Universe. He devised a
model, known as a heliocentric system,
in which Earth and the planets moved in
orbits, with the Sun (rather than Earth)
at the center of the solar system.


130 bce


Hipparchus, a Greek from Nicaea
(now Iznik, Turkey), devised
the first accurate star map.
He used Ptolemy’s model
to predict lunar and
solar eclipses.


Llobet of Barcelona wrote a
work introducing the astrolabe
to Europe. This device, well
known in the Islamic world,
calculated the position of the
Sun and stars.

How it works
Galileo used a refracting telescope, with lenses to gather light
and to produce a magnified image. Most modern refracting
telescopes are designed as shown above (and work slightly
differently from Galileo’s). These have an objective lens
at one end that gathers light from far objects and refracts
(bends) it to a focal point, producing an image. The light
then passes through an eyepiece that magnifies the image.



An astronomical observatory was
built at Maragha, Iran. It allowed
Islamic astronomers to make
highly accurate measurements of
the planets and stars from which
to compile charts and tables.

Copernicus published On the
Revolutions of the Celestial
Spheres, setting out his model
of a solar system with Earth
orbiting the Sun.



1145 ▶1245
Striking clocks

Arab engineer Muhammad al-Sa’ati
constructed the first striking clock in
Damascus, Syria. Like many early
clocks, it was powered by water. In
1203, his son Ridwan gave a detailed
description of the clock’s mechanism.

Al-Idrisi’s world map

Arab scholar Muhammad al-Idrisi
was commissioned by King Roger II
of Sicily to compile a world map. It
took 15 years to complete and was
inscribed on a 6.5-ft- (2-m-) wide
silver disc. The most accurate map
of its time, it was accompanied
by a book detailing all the
lands it portrayed.

Falcon-shaped figures released
weights into a metal vessel, the
sounds marking the hours.

Vertical windmills

Water power turned
the ropes and pulleys
that set al-Sa’ati’s
clock in motion.


The first windmills with sails mounted on a
vertical tower were introduced in Europe. The
spinning of the sails caused a shaft to rotate,
which operated hammers used to grind grain.
Earlier windmills, developed in Persia (now
Iran), had been horizontal, with rectangular
sails rotating around an upright shaft.


The first printed map

The earliest printed map in the
world, the Shiwu Guofeng dili zhi tu
(Geographic Map of Fifteen States),
appeared around this date. It was
printed from woodblocks and
showed parts of western China.
It was published in the Liu jing tu,
a Chinese encyclopedia. The map
listed place names, including
rivers and 15 provinces.

In 1150, Indian
Bhaskara II proved
that numbers have
two square roots,
one positive and
one negative.


Modern copy of Tabula Rogeriana,
al-Idrisi’s ancient world map

c 1170 –1250


Leonardo Bonacci, nicknamed Fibonacci,
was a merchant from Pisa, Italy, who
learned much about Arabic mathematics
while trading in North Africa. His book
Liber Abaci introduced Arabic numerals
and decimal notation to Europe. He also did
important work in solving certain algebraic
equations and in number sequences.
The number
sequence can
be shown as a
series of boxes.

Connecting the
opposite box
corners draws
a spiral shape.

Fibonacci’s sequence
Fibonacci described a sequence, later
named after him, in which each
number is the sum of the two numbers
before it (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, and so
on). Scientists found mapping a series
of squares whose area corresponds to
the numbers, and then connecting
them, draws a spiral shape often seen
in nature—such as a snail’s shell.







He had engraved on it a map of the seven
climates, and their lands and regions.
Muhammad al-Idrisi, Nuzhat al-Mushtaq fi Ikhtiraq al-Afaq
(Book of Pleasant Journeys into Faraway Lands), 1154


Illustration of a water
pump designed by al-Jazari

Major medical
book for women

Mechanical devices

Chinese physician Chen
Ziming wrote The Great
Treatise of Beneficial
Formulae for Women,
the first major Chinese
medical work on treating
women. It described 360
female medical conditions,
as well as problems linked
to pregnancy and childbirth.

In The Book of Knowledge of
Ingenious and Mechanical Devices,
Arab engineer al-Jazari described
more than 50 machines and gave
instructions for building them.
Among them were the first
crankshaft (to convert circular
motion into back-and-forward
motion) and a 6.5-ft- (2-m-)
high water clock in the
shape of an elephant.

See pages



Use of antiseptics
in Italy
Hugh of Lucca, an Italian
surgeon, described how
wine could be used as
an antiseptic to clean
wounds and prevent
infection. Traditionally,
doctors had thought,
wrongly, that letting pus
form in a wound helped
injuries to heal.

Robert Grosseteste
was the first
chancellor of
the University of
Oxford, in England,
from 1214.

Gunpowder rockets

The first military use of rockets propelled
by gunpowder was made by the Chinese
against the Mongols during their siege
of the town of Kaifeng in north-eastern
China. These “flying-fire arrows”
consisted of bamboo tubes filled with
gunpowder attached to a stick. They
were very inaccurate, but still caused the
Mongols to abandon the siege and flee.

A bishop’s theories

Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln in
England, tried to show how the philosophy and
science of the Ancient Greek Aristotle (see
pp.30–31) agreed with Christian ideas. Grosseteste
held the belief that light fills the Universe and shapes
its form. He thought scientific theories were best
examined through experiments and that ideas not
supported by observation should be rejected.

13th-century portrait
of Bishop Grosseteste



Roger Bacon
The 13th-century English friar Roger Bacon (c 1214–1292)
was nicknamed “Doctor Mirabilis” (Wonder Doctor) for his
wide-ranging scientific interests. At a time when universities
taught very few subjects in an unchanging curriculum, Bacon
wanted to introduce a different type of education.
Bacon the monk
Bacon studied at the University of Oxford in the 1230s, before moving
to Paris as a lecturer. He returned to Oxford in 1247, where he began his
scientific research. In 1257 he became a Franciscan monk. Living in a strict
religious community, he found it hard to continue his experimental work.

Opus Maius
This drawing of an eye is taken from Bacon’s book
Opus Maius. Bacon was not allowed to publish
without the consent of the Franciscans, but in 1266
Pope Clement IV asked him to produce a summary
of all the things he believed should be taught in
universities. By the time Bacon had completed
his work in 1268, Clement had died.

Bacon holds scales to
measure the weight
of substances.

Scale pan
containing the
element water

Reform of universities
Medieval university students learned mainly theology (study of religious
belief) and were also introduced to grammar, logic, and rhetoric (the art of
speaking and writing effectively). Classical Greek and Latin authors such as
Aristotle were used as models. In his important book Opus Maius (Latin for
“Greater Work”), Bacon argued for a much wider range of subjects, including
optics, geography, mechanics, and alchemy (medieval chemistry).
Bacon had new ideas about vision. While Greek scientists believed sight
was caused by a ray that came from the eye, Bacon thought all objects
gave out a wave that rippled outward. When this wave reached the eye,
the object was seen.
Later years
In 1268, Bacon lost a protector when Pope Clement IV, who supported
Bacon’s work, died. Many Franciscans thought Bacon’s ideas went against
the teachings of the Catholic Church. He may even have been imprisoned
for a while in Italy. Bacon eventually returned to England where he wrote
new works, including one on mathematics. He died in 1292.

Scale pan
containing the
element fire in
balance with
left-hand pan

The alchemist
Like many scholars of the time, Bacon
practiced alchemy. Alchemists believed that
everything was made of four “elements:”
earth, air, fire, and water. They also thought
they could transmute (transform) metals
such as lead into gold.


Lecturer in Paris
Bacon is seen here presenting one of his works to
the Chancellor of Paris University. Bacon taught there
for 10 years from around 1240. He met other scholars,
such as Peter Peregrinus, who wrote a work on
magnetism and inspired Bacon’s love of experimenting.


Astronomical observer
An avid astronomer, Bacon argued
that the Universe must be spherical.
He calculated the distance from Earth
to the stars as 130 million miles
(209 million km). We now know
the distance is many millions of
times greater.


The things of this world cannot
be made without a knowledge
of mathematics.


Roger Bacon, Opus Maius,


In 1267, English monk Roger Bacon
described the eye’s structure, the
use of magnifying lenses, and also
an early type of telescope.

1245 ▶1345
The earliest
manuscript of
Song Ci’s The
Washing Away
of Wrongs is
from 1408. This
example is from
the 19th century.


Work on forensic medicine

Song Ci, a Chinese lawyer, wrote The Washing
Away of Wrongs—the world’s first work on forensic
medicine (the use of scientific knowledge in crime
investigation). His aim was to improve the evidence
presented in legal cases, particularly of murder. He
collected information about past cases and was
critical about the unreliable tests traditionally
conducted by court officers.

In the 13th century, scientists
began experiments with
magnifying objects using
glass lenses. In 1286, Italian
friar Giordano da Pisa gave
the first description of lenses
used as spectacles. Early
eyeglasses corrected
farsightedness, a particular
problem for monks and
friars who often had to
read and write manuscripts
in dim light.

French clergyman wears
eyeglasses for close work.


Seeds from
poppy head



Using anesthetics

Magnetic force

In his groundbreaking medical writings, Italian
surgeon Teodorico Borgognoni discussed
many aspects of surgery and the care of
wounds. Using an early form of anesthesia,
he sedated his patients before operations
with sponges soaked in opium or other
sleep-inducing herbs.

Dial marked
in degrees

See pages

Mandrake root

French scholar Pierre de Marincourt
described the lines of magnetic
force surrounding a magnet. He
showed that a compass has two
poles, and that oppositely charged
magnetic poles attract each other,
while similarly charged poles repel
(push apart) each other.

Magnetized needle

A solution made with ingredients
such as opium poppy seeds or
mandrake root was soaked on
a sponge and given to patients
to make them sleep.



Then the stone that you
hold in your hand will appear
to flee the floating stone.
Pierre de Marincourt on magnetic
repulsion, Epistola de Magnete, 1269


Diagram of a needle compass,
from de Marincourt’s Epistola de
Magnete (Letter on the Magnet)

The Ancient Greeks believed that vision was the result
of the eye emitting a wave that bounced back from an
object in the line of sight. By the 13th century, scholars
such as Roger Bacon (see pp.48–49) understood it was
the other way around: that light emitted from an object
hit the lens of the eye to create an image.
3. Cells on retina turn light rays
into signals that are sent to the
brain and interpreted as images.
2. Lens focuses
light onto retina
(light-sensitive layer
at back of eye).



Rainbow theory

German monk Theodoric of Freiburg used
small, water-filled glass bottles to show that
light passing through them was both reflected
and refracted (sent in different directions). He
concluded that beams of sunlight hitting water
drops in a cloud bend in the same way,
causing a rainbow.

1. Cornea diffracts
(bends) light as
it strikes eye.

Cross-section of the human eye



First public dissection

Italian physician Mondino da Luzzi
performed the first public dissection
of a body at Bologna, Italy. This gave
medical students and doctors a
greatly improved understanding
of human anatomy.

c 1200–1280

Ockham’s razor

In his book Summa Logicae (The Sum of Logic),
English friar William of Ockham reasoned that
seeking an explanation for something should
be simplified by cutting out any unnecessary
information or arguments. The principle became
known as Ockham’s razor.

German Dominican friar Albertus Magnus was inspired
by the work of the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle
(see pp.30–31) to compile an encyclopedia of
philosophical and scientific knowledge. Albertus
believed in discovering the causes of things through
science, and he is regarded as the founder of natural
science as a field of study. His work ranged across
many subjects, including theology (study of
religion), logic, zoology, and alchemy (medieval
chemistry). He was an excellent teacher and
among his pupils was the famous Christian
theologian Thomas Aquinas.

Page from Magnus’s treatise
on natural history


French crusaders use cannons in an attempt to breach the walls of the North African city of Mahdia in 1390.



History of
The Chinese understood the explosive properties
of gunpowder—a mixture of saltpeter, sulfur, and
charcoal—as early as the 9th century ce. They adapted its
use to military purposes, producing “fire-arrows,” rockets,
and flamethrowers. Around 1250, they made the first
cannons. Knowledge of gunpowder weaponry spread
westward, reaching Europe about 1300. Cannons soon
appeared in battles there. Within a hundred years,
handheld guns were developed, but it was early artillery —
the big guns—that proved most effective in sieges,
where they could demolish fortifications once thought
indestructible. There was no such success for the French
at the so-called Mahdia Crusade pictured here, as their
firepower was not sufficient to breach city walls.


It made such a noise in the
going, as though all the devils
of hell had been on the way.
Jean Froissart, Chronicles, giving an
account of the use of cannons at the siege
of Oudenaarde, in Flanders, 1382



1345 ▶1445
Guild of Surgeons
See pages

The foundation of a Guild of Surgeons
in England, in 1368, was the first attempt
to provide rules and regulations for the
profession. Before this, anyone—commonly
barbers—had been able to practice surgery.

In 1357, French
philosopher Jean
Buridan developed the
theory of impetus,
the force that makes
an object move.



Rocket warfare
reaches Europe

Motion and forces
French mathematician
Nicolas d’Oresme worked
out a new way of drawing
graphs to represent the
motion of moving objects.
The graphs helped to
explain the relationship
between the speed, time,
and distance traveled.

The first recorded use in Europe
of rockets in warfare came at the
battle of Chioggia, a naval conflict
between the Italian cities of Venice
and Genoa. Rockets are difficult
to make and their military
use showed how a greater
understanding of gunpowder
weaponry was developing.
An array of surgical instruments illustrated in the
manuscript De Chirurgia (On Surgery) by the great
Arab physician Albucasis.




Astronomical clock

A rotating Earth

Italian clockmaker Giovanni de
Dondi completed his astrarium—a
complex clock with dials showing
the movements of the Sun, Moon,
and planets. It had more than 100
gear wheels. As well as allowing
astronomers to calculate the position
of heavenly bodies, it provided
a calendar of Church holy days.

In his Livre du ciel et du monde (Book of
Heaven and Earth), Nicolas d’Oresme
disproved all the popular ideas that
Earth was stationary at the center of the
solar system. He also suggested that
Earth rotated on its axis. However,
he could not go as far as believing
that Earth moved around the Sun.

The astrarium had seven dials
and its central weight swung
around 30 times a minute.


One could by this
believe that the earth
and not the heavens is
so moved, and there
is no evidence to
the contrary.


Nicolas d’Oresme on the rotation of Earth,
Livre du ciel et du monde, 1377

Nicolas d’Oresme seated by an armillary
sphere, a model of the solar system


c 1400 –1600


During the Renaissance, a cultural movement that
began in Italy in the mid-14th century, artists and
architects rediscovered the classical past. Architects
based their buildings on Greek and Roman models,
using columns, arches, and domes. Architect
Filippo Brunelleschi of Florence spent 16 years
building the remarkable dome of Florence
Cathedral. This dome, at 147 ft (45 m) wide
and 374 ft (114 m) high, was the largest
unsupported dome yet built.

Ring and herringbone
pattern on outer dome

Inner dome
of lighter

The dome of Florence Cathedral
Building such a huge dome was believed
to be impossible. Brunelleschi designed an
inner dome of lightweight material and an
outer one of heavier stone. Oak timbers
set in rings connected the two domes and
supported them. Constructing the outer
dome was made easier because the
builder could balance on the already
finished inner dome.

The campanile, or bell
tower, is 278 ft (85 m) high.





First recorded patent

Perspective in painting

The first patent—a license
giving an inventor sole
rights to an invention—was
granted by the city of Florence
to the Italian architect Filippo
Brunelleschi. It was for
a barge and hoist used to
transport heavy marble slabs
up the Arno River. The patent
forbade anyone else from
copying the idea for three years.

Roman artists knew how to use perspective
(a mathematical system for creating the
appearance of distance on a flat surface).
Knowledge of the technique was later
lost, but rediscovered during the Italian
Renaissance. In 1436, Leon Battista Alberti,
an architect and scholar, gave a full account
of it in his work On Painting.


Nicholas of Cusa
German theologian
Nicholas of Cusa (1401–
1464) believed that all
things in the Universe are
in motion. From this he
concluded that Earth is not
fixed and must move
around the Sun.

Nicholas of Cusa, portrayed here in a woodcut,
had theories on the Universe that would
influence scientists in later centuries.


Vanishing lines

Perspective gives the illusion of depth.
The artist draws objects smaller and closer
together until eventually they form a single
point known as the vanishing point.


In 1490, Leonardo da Vinci described
capillary action: when water moves
up inside a thin tube, in a direction
opposed to the force of gravity.

1445 ▶1545

Wooden plate
for holding


Gutenberg’s press

Lever tightens
plates together,
pressing inked
type onto paper.

Solid wooden
frame holds
plates steady to
prevent slippage.

Johannes Gutenberg set up the first
European printing press in Mainz,
Germany. This used movable type
that could be rearranged and reused
to make up different pages of text.
Producing books was made much
easier and the technique spread
rapidly throughout Europe.

First use of
+ and – signs

Johannes Widman, a German
mathematician, was the first to
use the modern signs for plus
(+) and minus (–). Previously,
mathematicians had used a
variety of signs, including “p”
and “m.” The sign “=” to
mean “equals” came into
use later, in 1557.

Trigonometry text

Replica of Gutenberg’s original press


German mathematician
Johannes Müller (known by his
Latin name, Regiomontanus)
wrote On Triangles, the first
textbook on trigonometry
(the study of the relationship
between angles and lengths
in triangles).

Tent canvas on
a wooden frame

A comet observed

An interest in astronomy led
Regiomontanus (Johannes
Müller) to make the first detailed
observations and descriptions of
a comet. Using trigonometrical
techniques, he worked out methods
for calculating the size of a comet
and its distance from Earth.
Model of
the parachute
Leonardo designed
in his sketchbooks

Page from
On Triangles

Christopher Columbus
discovers America

When Genoese mariner Christopher
Columbus sailed westward from
Spain, he was hoping to reach
China. Instead he discovered the
Americas, landing somewhere in
the Bahamas. His voyage led to
European colonization and an
exchange of food crops—and
diseases—between Europe
and the Americas.

Da Vinci’s
In his notebooks, Leonardo
da Vinci (see pp.58–59)
sketched out many ideas for
machines centuries before
their final invention. In 1481,
he drew and described
a parachute made
of tent canvas.


Woodcut of a comet, from the
Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493

Model of Santa Maria,
Columbus’s flagship on
his first expedition




Born in Poland, Copernicus studied astronomy,
mathematics, law, and medicine in Italy. When
asked to take part in a reform of the calendar,
Copernicus began to study Greek astronomer
Ptolemy’s 1,500-year-old system of celestial
spheres, in which he found flaws.

The first surviving globe
of the world was produced
in 1492 by cartographer
Martin Behaim, who made it
for his home city of Nuremberg
in Germany. It shows a world
map and has many
decorative illustrations.


The Copernican cosmos
Copernicus did not disagree with
Ptolemy’s idea that the planets
rotated in concentric spheres, but
he made corrections to some of
Ptolemy’s other notions. In his
amended version, he placed the
Sun at the center of the Universe,
not Earth, as Ptolemy had done.
Painting by Andreas Cellarius depicting
Copernicus’s Sun-centered Universe, 1660



Classifying chemicals

German chemist Theophrastus
von Hohenheim (better known as
Paracelsus) worked out a new
classification for chemical substances.
This was based on a division of
substances into salts, sulfurs, and
mercuries, according to their properties.

Illustrated anatomy

Flemish physician Andreas Vesalius
published De Humani Corporis Fabrica (On
the Structure of the Human Body), which
remained a standard textbook for centuries.
New printing techniques produced full-color
plates illustrating human anatomy
in the clearest detail seen so far.

By 1500, printing presses
had been set up in 282 cities
and had printed around
28,000 editions of books.

Diagram of muscles from
De Humani Corporis Fabrica


The artist
Out of Leonardo’s artistic output only
15 of his paintings are known to have
survived, and several are unfinished. But
among these are masterpieces such as the
Mona Lisa and The Adoration of the Magi.
He also left thousands of sketches,
including this self-portrait.




Leonardo da Vinci
The Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) was also an
extremely clever scientist. As well as painting the Mona Lisa,
one of the most famous works of art of all time, he studied
anatomy, geology, geography, and optics. He was a brilliant
engineer and drew designs for submarines, parachutes, and
airships centuries before the technology existed to build them.
Renaissance Florence
In 14th-century Italy, people began to take a fresh interest in Greek and
Roman learning that had been lost for centuries. By the late 15th century,
the city of Florence, Leonardo’s birthplace, was at the heart of what is
called the Renaissance (rebirth), a time of cultural renewal. From art
to medicine and from architecture to engineering, scholars relearned
old techniques and discovered new ones.
The engineer
Leonardo’s desire to understand how things worked, combined with his
skill at technical drawing, sparked in him an interest in machines and
engineering. He designed complex levers, pulleys, and springs for use
in construction. Leonardo was also a talented military engineer, and in
1500, he advised the Venetians on how to defend themselves from attacks
by the Turks. One of his suggestions was to use a form of submarine to
sink enemy ships. In his lifetime, Leonardo’s inventions attracted little
public interest. Today, we recognize his importance to science.

The anatomist
From the 1490s, Leonardo studied
anatomy. He dissected animals and attended
post-mortems of human corpses so that he
could see the internal structure of the body.
As a result, he was able to produce a series
of highly detailed anatomical sketches.

Ropes and pulleys
control flight.

and flight
Leonardo was intrigued
by flight. He made many
studies of the bodies of birds
and their wings, and believed these
worked according to mathematical
laws that he could use to design
flying machines. Leonardo drew
up plans for mechanical wings
operated by levers and pulleys,
but he never built such a machine.

Netting wings
were intended to
support a covering
of feathers.

Pilot uses
hand lever to
move wings


No human investigation
can be called real science if
it cannot be demonstrated


Pilot pedals to
move wings

Leonardo’s inventions
This wooden tanklike vehicle for storming fortifications was just
one among many ingenious machines that Leonardo devised.
Others included a parachute, a dredging machine, and a robotic
knight that could grasp objects and open and close its jaw.

Leonardo da Vinci, Trattato della Pittura
(Treatise on Painting)


The age of discovery
In the 16th century, new scientific knowledge replaced old ways of thinking.
The invention of the microscope and the telescope stimulated the study of
anatomy and astronomy. Long-distance travel at sea led to more accurate
ways of measuring distance and time. These advances created a need for
complex calculations, which brought about advances in mathematics. Instead
of relying on traditional teaching, scientists (then known as natural philosophers)
began to test ideas and theories through observation, investigation, and
experimentation. Their discoveries laid the foundations of modern science.

All the platinum ever mined
would fit in an average-sized
living room.

1545 ▶1570


Measuring distances

Eye piece

English surveyor Leonard Digges invented
an early theodolite, an instrument used
in surveying to measure distances
accurately. His device could measure
vertical and horizontal angles to
work out distances, but did
not have a telescope, unlike
modern examples.


Prolific inventor

Knob to adjust

Modern example
of a theodolite


Rare metal

Islamic scientist Taqi
al-Din wrote a book
describing how a steam
turbine worked. He also
invented the first weightdriven astronomical clock,
clocks that measured
minutes and seconds,
and an early telescope.


Italian scholar Julius
Caesar Scaliger wrote
that Spanish explorers
in Mexico had found a
substance that did not
melt at high temperatures
and did not rust. It is the
first known reference in
European writings to
platinum, one of Earth’s
rarest metals.


Animal magic

illustration of
a two-humped
(Bactrian) camel
and driver



Swiss naturalist Konrad von Gesner set out to catalog all the
world’s animals in his five-volume Historiae Animalium
(History of Animals), one of the first works of zoology.
Although his colorful drawings are noted for their accuracy,
he included some fictional beasts such as unicorns.

Math symbols

Welsh mathematician Robert
Recorde wrote The Whetstone of
Witte, the first book on algebra in
English. He popularized the use
of + (plus) and – (minus) signs,
and is credited with inventing
the = (equals) sign.

the world
See pages

First scientific society

Giambattista della Porta was an
Italian playwright and polymath
(someone who knows a lot about
many subjects). He founded what
is believed to be the world’s first
scientific society in Naples, Italy.
Membership of the society, called
the Academia Secretorum Naturae
(Academy of the Mysteries of
Nature) was open to anyone who
had made a new scientific discovery.

Anatomical discovery

Gabriello Falloppio, an Italian
anatomist and professor of surgery at
Padua University, in Italy, published a
description of the human reproductive
organs. He gave his name to the
Fallopian tubes, the pair of channels
in female mammals through which
eggs pass from the ovaries
to the uterus.

Ambroise Paré operates on a patient in this 19th-century print

Compassionate surgery

French surgeon Ambroise Paré wrote a manual of modern surgery
based on his experience of carrying out amputations on the battlefield.
Ahead of his time, Paré stated that pain relief, healing, and good
patient care were essential to successful surgery.





Advances in navigation and exploration
in the 1500s led to improvements in
mapmaking. The center of mapmaking
was Antwerp (in modern-day Belgium),
then a busy center of international trade.
Printed collections of maps familiarized
Europeans with the new lands discovered
in America and Asia.

Gerard Mercator
In 1569, Flemish
mapmaker Gerard
Mercator published
a new world map.
His represention, or
projection, of the globe
on a flat surface used a
grid of straight lines
to show direction. This
proved an aid to sailors.

The first atlas
Abraham Ortelius, a Flemish cartographer, published the first modern
world atlas in 1570. It contained 70 separate maps on 53 sheets,
showing all the countries and continents known at that time.


Measuring things

Measuring small distances
Engineers and others who need to
measure small distances use a
two-armed instrument called
a caliper. The simplest form of
caliper is a pair of compasses
or dividers. This much more
elaborate gunner’s caliper
was used to measure the
bore (internal dimension)
of a cannon as well as
the external width
of a cannonball.

In ancient times, parts of the human body were used
to measure length (some systems today still use
“feet”). The first weights were often based on fixed
quantities of grain. These traditional units served
well for thousands of years, until the rise of scientific
experimentation brought the need for far more
accurate methods of measuring things.

Arc marked
with a scale
gives diameter.

Early weights
and measures

Today, we measure length, weight,
and volume using international standard
units. In the past, these units were local—
each city or country set their own. For
example, in medieval England, an inch
was equivalent to three grains of
barley laid length to length.
scale used for
weighing goods
Rod is one

Compass for
navigation also
has a sundial.

cubit (the
length of
a forearm)

Curved arm
with scale

Divided into 28
segments called
fingers (width of
a human finger)
and seven palms
(width of a
human hand)

with Fahrenheit
scale, 1720s

Degrees of temperature
Two scales for accurately measuring
temperature were invented in the 1700s—
the Fahrenheit scale in 1724 and the
Celsius (or centigrade) scale in 1742.
Today, the Celsius scale is used in nearly
every country in the world. The US
still uses the Fahrenheit scale.

Egyptian royal cubit
measuring rod

Points are used to
measure internal and
external distances.

Key events


3000 bce

The royal cubit was