Technology of the Middle Ages

hopsIn the spirit of all things scary and spooky, we’re offering up examples of technology from the Middle Ages. The next time you consider cursing the ice cube maker in your refrigerator for not pumping out enough cubes, remember this article and appreciate things like electricity and running water. They also made some pretty great discoveries and inventions in the Middle Ages, but we’ll leave that up to you to decide.

(1) Hops – We’re not talking about jumping, but the female flower of the plant Humulus lupulus.  Hops were added to beer the first time in the 11th century to improve the flavor and preserve beer for transport.  Who thinks of these things?

(2) Central Heating – More affluent Romans used systems called hypocausts to heat their villas and baths.  This form of central heating required constant attention to the fire (the source of heat) and was very expensive.  Figuring out air conditioning and thermostats would come many centuries later, and would not be done by the Romans.

(3) Mechanical Clocks – What they didn’t do in the 13th century was invent alarm clocks, for which I am eternally grateful.  European inventors did create the mechancial clock, which were weight-driven devices used primarily in clock towers.

(4) Horizontal Loom –  If it sounds like it was a lot of work, that’s because it was.  Thank goodness for automated sewing machines and robots replacing this 13th century device.  While there were probably a few devices in between, you get the point.

This iron maiden came long before the band in the 1980s.

This iron maiden came long before the band in the 1980s.

(5) Magnets – How else would you be able to attach your kid’ fine art drawings to the refrigerator? First coming into play around 1160, we’re not sure what they were used for.  My theory is that someone saw what the magnet could do, said ‘oh, cool’, and then tossed it aside until the first refrigerator was invented centuries later.

(6) Printing Press – Invented by Johannes Gutenberg in 1440, the sheer volume of material churned out by this hand-cranked press led to a huge dissemination of information in book form.  It wasn’t until the 19th century that this press was replaced by steam-powered rotary drums allowing printing on an industrial scale.

I’m always surprised by what technologies were around years ago.  If you want to find out more about what inventions were floating around in the Middle Ages, use the 21st century invention known as ‘Google’, and have at it!


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