From prehistoric times, Egyptians likely used the power of the annual flooding of the Nile to irrigate their lands, gradually learning to regulate much of it through purposely built irrigation channels and “catch” basins.

The ancient Sumerians in Mesopotamia used a complex system of canals and levees to divert water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers for irrigation. Archaeologists estimate that the wheel was invented independently and concurrently in Mesopotamia (in present-day Iraq), the Northern Caucasus (Maykop culture), and Central Europe.

Time estimates range from 5,500 to 3,000 BCE with most experts putting it closer to 4,000 BCE. The oldest artifacts with drawings depicting wheeled carts date from about 3,500 BCE. The invention of the wheel revolutionized trade and war. It did not take long to discover that wheeled wagons could be used to carry heavy loads. The ancient Sumerians used a potter’s wheel and may have invented it. A stone pottery wheel found in the city-state of Ur dates to around 3,429 BCE, and even older fragments of wheel-thrown pottery have been found in the same area.

Fast (rotary) potters’ wheels enabled early mass production of pottery, but it was the use of the wheel as a transformer of energy (through water wheels, windmills, and even treadmills) that revolutionized the application of nonhuman power sources. The first two-wheeled carts were derived from travois and were first used in Mesopotamia. Starting in the United Kingdom in the 18th century, the discovery of steam power set off the Industrial Revolution, which saw wide-ranging technological discoveries, particularly in the areas of agriculturemanufacturingminingmetallurgy, and transport, and the widespread application of the factory system. This was followed a century later by the Second Industrial Revolution which led to rapid scientific discovery, standardization, and mass production.

New technologies were developed, including sewage systemselectricitylight bulbselectric motorsrailroadsautomobiles, and airplanes. These technological advances led to significant developments in medicinechemistryphysics, and engineering. They were accompanied by consequential social change, with the introduction of skyscrapers accompanied by rapid urbanization. Communication improved with the invention of the telegraph, the telephone, the radio, and television.

The 20th century brought a host of innovations. In physics, the discovery of nuclear fission in the Atomic Age led to both nuclear weapons and nuclear powerComputers were invented and later shifted from analog to digital in the Digital RevolutionInformation technology, particularly optical fiber and optical amplifiers led to the birth of the Internet, which ushered in the Information Age. The Space Age began with the launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957, and later the launch of crewed missions to the moon in the 1960s.

Organized efforts to search for extraterrestrial intelligence have used radio telescopes to detect signs of technology use or techno signatures, given off by alien civilizations. In medicine, new technologies were developed for diagnosis (CTPET, and MRI scanning), and treatment (like the dialysis machinedefibrillatorpacemaker, and a wide array of new pharmaceutical drugs).


Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash