What building knowledge you have to pass on to a civilisation a thousand years ago?

Thets say that you or i travelled back in time a thousand or so years somehow and you are trying to tell the people of that period that you are from the future. Now its all well and good telling them that in the future there will be jets and spacecraft and providing them with all sorts of wacky predictions, but could anybody out there actually build something for hard proof on their own. For instance, we all take the smallest of things for granted but without the materials and resources ready at hand could any of us have the knowledge to build something like spectacles or a rubber trye? What piece of futuristic equipment do the straight dope readers think you could pass on to civilisation a thousand years ago??

Me, i think i could struggle with a basic compass if they didn`t already have that then!

I´m quite sure I could build a simple steam machine, a primitive glider, and a Pentium IV processor… no, wait, scrap the last one. :smiley:

The first two are quite doable in the context of the OP having the know-how.

By the way, the compass was invented (well, rather discovered) by the Chinese about 2400 years ago.

if you’re going back a thousand years, have access to some sand, ash and a heat source, you could probably produce a crude glass (assuming that technology isn’t already in your area).

once you have a couple thick pieces with minimal distortion, grinding concave and convex surfaces using fine abrasives (more sand) should be doable. get yourself two metal tubes, one that can fit inside the other, install glass lenses in either end. voila! instant spyglass, only a couple hundred years ahead of schedule.

It’s not very futuristic but the techniques for making hydraulic cement (first discovered by the Romans) were lost until relatively recently (early 1800’s). That might be possible to make (if I coudl construct a kiln that woudl get hard enough and find the raw materials). Plus, even basic building ideas like truss structures weren’t in use a thousand years ago.

I guess it depends on your education. Engineers could probably whip something cool up. I dunno about an 18th centruy Russian lit major…

I think the key would be to build upon whatever the indigenous technology already was. If they use heavy wooden beams, show them a truss structure that’s stronger using 1/3rd the wood.

In 1000AD, some parts of the world knew about arches, others didn’t. I can certainly put together a stone arch.

Point out how to make bricks in a wooden form from baked mud & straw, rather than using irregularly-shaped stones. An unlimited supply of regularly-shaped building materials would be an Og-send to these folks.

Much of the world was using iron by then, but nobody had steel. You can improve the heck out of iron with a little charcoal and a bellows.

I bet I can tinker with sand and a fire and eventually make glass.

You know a windmill and watermill is do-able, and roughly how to build one. They may not.

The key is to try to advance their technology by 100 years, not 1000. You’ll still be thought an amazing wizard, but meanwhile you’re harnessing what they already have to help you work your magic.

If they already have copper-working you can create wire and from there a generator and who-knows-what from there. That’s a much larger leap and maybe not practical, certainly not as your first trick.

All these ideas work better if you (anyone) weren’t just an ignorant consumer in our modern era. A typical 1900-era farmer would be a very model of practical DIY engineering.

Man, are you that old?

Once you assemble a crude battery, you can in theory begin isolating aluminum (from bauxite ore). I read once that the ancients considered pure aluminum even more valuable than gold, due to its rarity. Electroplating would be another neat trick.

Got zinc and rubber trees? Then you could in theory demonstrate vulcanization of rubber.

You could spur a medical/demographic revolution by (with your first crude microscope) demonstrating, a la Leewenhoek, the ubiquity of microorganisms. Then, if only you could persuade (or get decreed) the “doctors” and midwives of your time to wash their hands and boil/heat their metal instruments prior to surgeries, dentistry, and childbirth deliveries, you would see a dramatic decrease in the death rate. Establishing municipal water-quality systems (even if only as simple as preserving water reservoir areas from livestock and human fecal contamination) would accomplish as much, or more. Ditto for demonstrations of proper food handling. Pasteurization of milk could be next. If your community is troubled by goiter or rickets, then you could demonstrate the wondrous powers of iodide and Vitamin C if you could find sources of those…

You could also kick-start an agricultural revolution, by teaching the basics of selective breeding, cross-pollination, fruit tree grafting, and maybe even artificial insemination.

If they have crappy roads, or no roads, I could create a sample bit of macadam road. Ditto for wheels/axles, some simple toothed and racheted gears, and the basic wing shape (a “puddlejumper” would be a do-able demonstration device).

Brass instruments, and to a lesser degree, the woodwinds and strings.

If your community was really primitive in its economic arrangements (as in bartering agro commodities), you could unleash much economic potential by introducing a controlled-supply, standardized currency/specie combination, as issued by the king’s treasury (an Ur-central bank), and establishing means for borrowing and lending for non-usurious interest percentages.

If they don’t have it already, show them the Arabic numerals and start teaching math – as much math as you can remember.

Don’t remember the Periodic Table of the Elements? Well, jot down as much of it as you can remember, along with whatever you remember from chemistry, etc. Set down the general principles of the groupings along with some ramifications of their significance, and let others fill in the blanks over time… just the basic concepts would be revolutionary enough.

I bet most of us could help steer the course of basic-patent-yielding research… towards lightbulbs, piston engines, pumps and compressors, batteries and generators, aviation and rocketry, etc. etc.

One more thing: I’d have to take a whack at producing the sweetened chocolate (access to cacao beans necessary), graham crackers, and marshmallows for s’mores. Living by campfire (or the indoors hearth equivalent) with no s’mores – or at least toasted marshmallows – just wouldn’t be as much fun!

No one’s taken this thread in a military direction - your ideas may not survive if the country you reside in is taken over! I think I could write down the basics of gunpowder, and teaching people the value of a bullet casing (which took hundreds of years to stumble upon) would be a huge advancement (as well as the revolver and machine gun and rockets). I would also teach them the art of hit and run guerilla warfare and none of that “stand in long lines” stuff. Using basic physics I could teach people to more accurately predict the path of their canon balls and build stronger fortresses. If I could build a working steam engine I could probably build a working tank :slight_smile:

But if I really were sent 1000 years backwards in time I would probably invent the printing press - putting my entire brain on paper and disseminating the information throughout the world would have a much bigger impact than anything I could invent in a short lifetime. I actually hated that the printing press got voted the #1 invention of all time back in 1999 on the Discovery Channel when I felt someone like Newton should have won, but in this situation I think it would be most useful.

It always amazes me when I see such random questions like this on the SDMB that I’ve actually thought of before myself!

one thing people should note is people might not be receptive to technology.

you might be burned at the stake as witch, or just ignored.

some famous greek guy (can’t remember his name) invented a steam engine over 2000 years ago. it was tank with a bent pipe coming out of each end. after it was filed with water a fire was lite under it. the steam came out and it spun like a pinwheel fire work. it never cought on becouse the guy in charge at the time figured if it did most of the work what work were the slaves supposed to do?

Forget technology, teach them philosophy. I’d just sit there and write down everything I could remember, especially epistemology. Teach people how to think rationally; that’s the lever than can move the world. Then they’ll figure out all the rest for themselves.

But I’d miss music and art a lot, so I’d have to teach them probably 3 or 4 centuries worth. no more.

And baseball and teddy bears and chocolate.

General Questions is for questions with factual answers. IMHO is for opinions and polls. I’ll move this to IMHO for you.

Off to IMHO.

DrMatrix - GQ Moderator

“U” joint plumbing traps.

“Trust me, you highness, you and your subjects will never miss the all-pervasive smell of shit once we’ve installed these babies.”

That would be Heron of Alexandria.

Witch! Witch! Witch! :smiley:

I don’t think I could build anything useful. But I would try to pass on the germ theory, (assuming I’m not in ancient greece) the scientific method, anything I could remember about math class, the notion of invidual rights and thought I doubt I could build it I could give them ideas for the printing press.

I could teach them how to build a stud wall with perfectly spaced 2x4s that once covered with sheetrock would disappear forever, never to bear load again!

I really, really suck working with wood, or anything else used to create shelter for humans or other animals. :frowning:

I could teach people to brew beer, but they already know that by now.

Worthless, then as now. :wink:

Well, I could make gunpowder, and a couple of other explosives as well as producing some basic firearms(with socket bayonets, so they can be their own pikemen), cannons, mortars, other weapons, and better steel armor. Also, these explosives would be a big help in mining, to get all that extra iron and coal we are gonna need.

I would also teach how to fight properly with the weapons; ** Bob55 ** the whole stand in a line thing is the best way to employ inacurate, short ranged firearms, especially if the enemy has calavry. Until you get repeating rifles, if you spread your troops out they won’t be able to produce the volume of fire needed to stop a determined infantry or calavry charge from getting into melee range.

Also, I could put together a decent steam engine, and to prove its worth, start with building an ironclad boat, with cannons, that would be pretty much invincible on the high seas.

As others have mention, basic germ theory and sanitation could give you a much healthier population and higher birth rate for whatever group you take over.

If you are seriously interested in this sort of discussion, the best place I know is the 1632Tech forum at Baens bar. ( www.baen.com and look for the Baens Bar link) It is based on the book 1632 and it’s sequels, where a small US town ends up in 1632 in the middle of Germany. They are really serious about this stuff there. I would suggest that before jumping in too far that you read at least part of 1632 to get an idea of the situation - if you can’t find it in your local bookstore it is available free online on the same website - under the Free Library link.


Correction – vulcanization of rubber requires mixing in sulfur, not zinc. (OTOH, zinc and nickel are what you need for various steel alloys.)

The basic outlines of the nitrocellulose-based industries of TNT and film, as well as the importance of silver [halides?] to photography… leaving it to others discover the details.

Secular education and the organization of differentiated schools for advanced learning (i.e., grad schools, medical schools, law schools) would help build a more modern society.

And, ahem, American-style football. Introduced early enough on, it should ensure that that wimpy, boring, low-scoring game of soccer would never really catch on… [d&r]