History of science, Vol II – from Antiquity to Christ

A while ago we started on a quest to bring you the most interesting facts and discoveries in the field of science from Antiquity to modern times. Our first article of the History of Science Series presented the most important scientific break-throughs in Antiquity. The author of this series, Dr. Adrien Besseiche, is one of the most active collaborators on farmacist.info and we are excited to have him return with a fascinating new story about science.

1400 years of discoveries

Previously, in the first episode of this series on the History of Sciences, we introduced the basics of the science’s development in ancient times with the first innovations in different areas of research, including medicine and science. Today we continue the story of important dates, marking the emergence of concepts, tools and scholars who were decisive in the History of mankind and contributed to the better understanding of the world we live in.

The period from 1400 years before Christ (B.C.) until the year of his birth (0) was a rich period from a scientific point of view. During this time, mankind had developed intensive shipbuilding abilities and began exploring sea areas beyond the Mediterranean. Along with this, we had also significantly increased our knowledge of the human body, diseases, created new measurement tools and developed sciences such as mathematics, and astronomy. It was also the period that gave birth to great scholars such as Democritus, Hippocrates, Aristotle or Archimedes. Here is a small selection of major breakthroughs and works, resumed in Fig.1. 

≈1400 BC : An intricate clock measuring flow of water, deposited in the tomb of Amenophis III, demonstrates domination of first experimental science by Egyptians.

≈1100 BC : First proven domestication of the silkworm in China.

≈1000 BC : Egyptians make models of Anubis, one of the Gods of the Dead, with a mobile jaw, meant to simulate speech and we can considerate these animated models as the first ancestors of modern robots simulating life-like behaviour.

≈800 BC : In India, medicine separetes itself from priesthood and starts using anatomical models. At the same period, Homer refers to highly developed battlefield surgery.

≈790 BC : Assyrians use animal bladders as swimming aids in warfare.

≈750 BC : In India, scientists give an approximate values of π (π = 25/8 = 3.125).

≈650 BC : Progress in water installations allow for improvement in plant breeding and a beginning of hygiene care : for instance Jerusalem has subterranean water tunnels, the first aqueducts are built; the city of Nineveh has bucket wells.

≈580 BC : Anaximander wrote the first work on natural science, a classical poem entitled Περι φυσεως (« On Nature »). where he states that human beings must descend from aquatic animals, presenting what may be the first written theory of evolution : in the beginning there was a fish-like creature with scales that lived in the ocean and arose to dry land.

≈500 BC : Human cadavers are dissected for scientific studies by the Greek physician Alcmaeon who discovers the Eustachian tubes in the ear. He states that good health results between the equilibirum of « humidity/dryness », « cold/heat », « bitterness and sweetness », while an imbalance in these ratioes causes diseases. He also discovers the difference between veins and arteries, as well as the connection between the brain and sensory organs.

≈420 BC : Democritus further develops the atomic theory. His main stance is that atoms whirl in the void, where they can combine together in all varieties of forms. This reconciles both the « Parmenides view » of unchanging matter, and the « Heraclitus view » of ever changing matter.

≈400 BC : Hippocrates determines that the male contribution to a child’s heredity is carried in the semen. One of the things for which he is remembered is his theory that the human body is composed of the four elements (earth, air, fire, water) plus four fluids or humors (blood, produced by the heart, yellow bile produced by the liver, black bile produced by the spleen and phlegm produced by the brain). Hippocrates had established the oath that all men professing medicine must obey.

≈350 BC : Aristotle creates the first major rules of logics, which we know today as first order logics. This is at the root of all hypothetico-deductive methodology.

≈340 BC : Chinese astronomers describe 115 stars and 28 constellations with their coordinates.

≈330 BC : Theophrastos describes more than 550 plants in a treaty that was to be copied for many generations until printing was invented in Europe.

≈320 BC : Aristotle speculates whether an embryo just grew and enlarged from the preformed child or undergoes development from some undifferentiated unit to a differentiated embryo. This speculation led to 2000 years of debate and controversy.

≈300 BC : Diocles writes a book that advances the knowledge of anatomy. He tries to fathom the causal connection between symptom and disease.

≈260 BC : Archimedes discovers fundamental theorem which gives the weight of a body immersed in a liquid, what we call today the Law of Archimedes.

≈220 BC : Apollonius postulates that the planets revolve around the Sun and the Sun revolves around the Earth.

≈160 BC : Nicander of Colophon, in his medical poem, describes poisons in general, analyses 19 specific poisons (8 from animal and 11 from plants), and lists appropriate cures.

January, the 1st, 45 BC : Julius Caesar decides to correct the problem of the non integer number of days in the year by adding a day to the calendar every fourth year. It had always been difficult for humans to devise a calendar that works precisely because the solar year is not exactly 365 days long and the lunar month is not exactly 29 days.

History of Sciences 2

Fig. 1 The most imporant scientific discoveries that benefited mankind in the 1400 years before the birth of Christ.

The birth of Christ and the emergence of monotheisms will profoundly influence the scientific orientations and dogma for centuries to come. In the coming episodes we will try to understand how factors such as wars and religions can influence scientific evolution either by preventing it or, on the other hand, by promoting it.

Dr. Adrien and the Pharmacists


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