1. The ‘Death Ray’
Nikola Tesla, among his many notable achievements, is said to have been the inventor of Teleforce, not so cryptically nicknamed the ‘Death Ray’. Allegedly this device, which many tried to steal from Tesla, was able to shoot beams that would destroy anything in its path for some 200 miles. Even more amazingly, the device could construct its own ‘power wall’ to defend itself and its user. His designs have perished completely. Do you think it was a good or a bad thing?
2. Greek Fire
Many researchers have put countless hours into discovering the mysteries behind the legendary ‘Greek Fire’, used during the lengthy Byzantine (East Roman) Empire, which survived the fall of Ancient Rome until the 15th Century. This was a military weapon used in sea battles. The ‘fire’ was able to burn everything without being put out. It could even travel over water, like God.
The knowledge of the ingredients that made this incendiary substance were confined to a few important military personnel. The fall of the Empire to the Turks meant that this secret has been lost, perhaps irretrievably.
3. Anti-Gravity Device
During the 1950s, when technological advancements were conducted in secret, in the interests of governments’ military planning, Thomas Townsend Brown was reputed to be behind some extraordinary experiments in the field of aviation. Allegedly, Brown found that ‘anti-gravity’ or ‘electro gravity’ technology could be applied to the science of aviation to explain UFOs and launch aircraft that had no need for fossil fuels for their propulsion.
The data and the discoveries he and his team uncovered remain unknown, or classified as secret.
4. Sloot Digital Coding System
Computers are quite amazing, and they are improving all the time. Yet there may be one discovery that we have lost, much to the detriment of humanity. Romke Jan Bernhard Sloot died of a heart attack the day before he was due to sign a deal with electronics giant Philips, in his native Holland. The deal was said to be related to his creation of an astonishing system of data compression.
He is alleged to have been able to compress a 10gb movie file into the size of an 8kb document, with no resultant loss in quality. How he did it has been lost, along with the floppy disk he had which contained his unique system of coding.
5. The Antikythera Mechanism
This device was discovered in the early twentieth century, recovered from an ancient shipwreck during the time of the Roman Empire (1st or 2nd century A.D.). The device was constructed out of many dials, levers and gears, with incredible precision. This is the only one of its kind known about, though some ancient and medieval records indicate it was able to track the movements of celestial bodies for some unknown purpose.
It clearly is an ancient example of computing, and thus can claim to be the world’s earliest computer. It’s amazing that such an invention was lost and not improved upon until the last century.
6. The Tesla Oscillator
Tesla is also reputed to have built another destructive device, but he destroyed this one all by himself. His oscillator was able to resonate so quickly, and with such power, that the buildings around him shook and were threatened just as they would have been in an earthquake. As a result, he smashed it to bits with a hammer when he saw he couldn’t turn it off. What a great man he must have been, but what an unlucky neighbor to have had!
7. Flexible Glass
Some inventions, as we have seen, were destroyed on purpose due to the frightening effects they would wreak upon the world. Yet some of the reasons given are a little more troubling. Flexible glass was a material presented to Tiberius Caesar, while he reigned as Augustus’ first successor to the Imperial throne, around the time of the Crucifixion (14-37 A.D.). Caesar chucked the glass onto the floor, but it didn’t break.
The craftsman/inventor showed he could mend it back into shape with a small hammer. Unfortunately, only this obscure manufacturer knew the secret of his invention. And when he told Tiberius this fact, Caesar had him beheaded in order to avoid a precipitous drop in the value of gold and silver, which he deemed necessary to avoid.
Some inventors seemingly repented of their creations, and one, Maurice Ward, refused to give his secret to NASA for fear of the consequences, thus allowing the invention to die just after it was born. Starlite was a plastic-like material that could withstand all manner of pressure, power and heat without being affected.
Maurice proved this on television. He coated a fresh egg with the material and fired at it with a blow-torch for 5 minutes. Then he peeled of the Starlite and cracked the egg, which was miraculously uncooked. How NASA wish they had this amateur chemist’s invention in their laboratories!
9. The Stradivari violins
How do you keep unique technology secret while maintaining its existence through the ages? The Stradivari violins are an example of how this was nearly, but not quite, achieved. When Antonino Stradivari put together violins that resonated so heavenly, everyone wanted to know his secret. He wanted to build his own family empire, and so, jealously guarded his secret, telling it only to his two sons.
Unfortunately, they did not learn the lesson of their father, and told no one else whether it was the wood or some fungus that made the violin so beautifully harmonious. And so the Stradivari was no more.
Greek literature is full of tales of woe, loss and death. Whether it’s the Fall of Troy, the love of Echo for Narcissus (and Narcissus for Narcissus), or the countless Tragedies acted upon the stage, there are few works that don’t deal with pain and darkness. Yet, in Homer, there is frequent mention of a unique medicine that was able to ‘chase away sorrow’.
Known as Nepenthe, it was used to quell the blues, and aid mourners in putting aside their grief. Today there are prescribed many substances that try to perform the same function, some with regrettable side effects. Yet, Nepenthe is a total mystery, since we don’t know which plant the drug was taken from.
11. The Telharmonium
In the dying embers of the 19th Century, a new and exciting invention was being conceived that would bring the wonders of classical music to the whole world. The Telharmonium looks like a giant organ, that was able to reproduce the unique sounds of many instruments and transmit them via telephone wires.
Unfortunately, though the idea was ‘sound’ and worked well, it took too much grid power to be considered properly utilitarian. We have no recordings of how the instrument sounded, and now no one knows whether any parts of it remain. Luckily, newer inventions have rendered it obsolete anyway.
12. The Library of Alexandria
Classical antiquity produced so much learned genius, that we really have little idea of the scale of our loss. One site, the Library of Alexandria, Egypt, became the center of the Hellenized world, as it contained everything said to have ever been written. The amount of history, theology, philosophy, science, astronomy and mathematics that vanished when the library burned down just beggars belief.
The dark ages that followed the end of the Classical Age showed what such a loss of knowledge means to civilization. Have we yet managed to catch up with those learned days? Perhaps not.
13. Archimedes’ Death Ray
During the days of Roman and Hellenic (Greek/Macedonian) hegemony there was yet another military device that was lost to us. This miraculous invention was a kind of mirrored glass that used the power of the sun to set enemy ships ablaze. Many historians of the days described the weapon, and modern researchers have attempted to create their own version, yet, in reality, we are no nearer to finding out just how it was done.
14. Damascus Steel
Today you can actually purchase ‘Damascus Steel’, which was originally said to be the strongest steel of any kind, able to slice through anything in its path. From the 1100s to the 1700s, the steel was the bane of unarmed enemy soldiers all over the Middle-East. But somehow, the particular combination of ores that made-up the steel was changed due to unknown circumstances. The modern day Damascus Steel is thus not as effective as its more illustrious forebear.
The inventor of this substance claimed he was immune to death from poison, if first he imbibed this combination of 65 herbs. Thus, when he finally became ‘sick of it all’, and decided to take his own life, he was forced to request that a bunch of soldiers stab him to death.
After which time, his unique recipe was altered and altered until the end result bore no relation to the original. Thus, Mithridate, or any similar substance that can stave off all poison’s noxious effects, has vanished off the face of the Earth.
16. Viking Sword Ulrbehrt
These incredible swords come from the heyday of the Viking menace (800-1000 A.D.), when the fearsome norsemen would terrorize communities of peaceful people all over the known world, from Ireland to Russia. The swords seem to have been constructed according to technological requirements that, by rights, did not exist until eight further centuries had elapsed.
On the one hand, the swords must have required the kind of intense forging heat that was near impossible to generate at the time. On the other, the particular composition of the metal has perplexed ancient and medieval weaponry experts. Somehow these Vikings made a giant leap in weapon technology, which was suddenly forgotten soon after the Viking phenomenon faded away around the turn of the first millennium.
17. Apollo and Gemini Space Program Technology
Incredibly, much of the technology developed by NASA that led to the first moon landing (and a stunning victory over the Soviet Union in the space race) has been lost! The reason for this is that since the projects undertaken in the name of extraterrestrial supremacy were so intense, they also happened to be rather disorganized.
NASA technicians are trying to recover the information that led to the breakthroughs by working backwards to see how their predecessors achieved success. This is impossible thanks to independent contractors that NASA employs to work on various parts of the reverse engineering project separately from the main team.
18. Wardenclyffe Tower and Free Electricity System
Mr. Tesla makes one more appearance on our list here, with perhaps his most interesting invention. He was contracted to work on Long Island by notable industrialist, J.P. Morgan to build a wireless tower able to send messages across the globe.
The rebellious Tesla took the money and instead set forth on his own pet-project, a transmitter of free electricity to homes all over the world. Morgan indignantly dismantled the project and sent Tesla off packing. It’s amazing to think that we could all have had free electricity, isn’t it?
For better or worse, contraceptives have undoubtedly changed societies around the world in the last century, as we can see in the rich West’s declining birth rates. Arguably some of these social changes may have effected a deterioration in our family lives, and something similar may have happened before the Fall of Rome too.
The plant Silphium could be made into a juice that, if drunk every few weeks, would terminate or stave off unwanted pregnancies. This contraceptive greatly appealed to luxurious Roman citizens who wanted more control over their lives (and the lives of their slaves!). Sadly, the plant became extinct during ancient times due to overharvesting.
20. Roman Concrete
Concrete buildings are a kind of modern symbol of the ephemeral but ugly nature of many of our recent architectural attempts. The material doesn’t seem fitting to the creation of beautiful designs as executed in the years before its invention, around the year 1700.
However, ancient civilizations - the Romans, Greeks, Persians and Egyptians - did actually have their own recipes that worked even better (when it comes to longevity and beauty) than modern concrete. Unfortunately, no one knows just how the Romans, whose buildings still stand proudly all over Europe, West Asia and North Africa, put together their concrete. Some darkly say they added blood to the mix.