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Ancient mechanisms

  1. Jun 20, 2008 #1


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    We often see in films and television series stories about how a particular adventurer stumbles across an ancient underground city or tomb seeking lost treasure. And then at some point the protagonist or his party would inadvertently trigger some booby trap by means of some mechanism set in place by ancient workers. My question, is, it really possible for such mechanisms, which usually comprise of rocks to function as they should after centuries they were built?

    At times depending on the film or TV show, the trap mechanism may date back to only about a few hundred years old. But in general are such stories credible in any way?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 20, 2008 #2
    Complex machines are very old...the 'Antikythera Mechanism' is a mechanical calculator for computing the relative positions of the stars and dates to 150 BC. Have you ever heard of the 'Baghdad Battery'? It is a clay vessel that might have functioned as Galvanic Cell for electroplating objects or medical treatments, predating Alessandro Volta by 1800 years. Unfortunately it was stolen during the 2003 invasion of Iraq...
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2008
  4. Jun 20, 2008 #3

    Ivan Seeking

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    Hi Defennder,
    Your choice to put this in S&D was reasonable, but since there is no mystery about how those mechanisms might have worked, it doesn't quite qualify as an unexplained phenomenon.
  5. Jun 23, 2008 #4
    I would say the best possible way to make such a device would be using a spring with hookes law to store the energy and a switch to release it.
  6. Jun 24, 2008 #5
    How long before a spring will lose that energy though? Wont it eventually stick in the compressed (or what have you) position?
  7. Jun 24, 2008 #6
    Well then I supposed you could use stored potential energy. Say a pendulum or a weight raised high that is released. I'm pretty sure that in real life the most intricate ancient booby traps were trap doors with spikes.
  8. Jun 24, 2008 #7


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    No, a properly made spring doesn't "decay". But it does require some metal-work skill to make a a spring. Easier to just use a weight on a rope.
  9. Jun 24, 2008 #8
    Wouldn't the potential/stress in the spring cause some recrystallization of the grain order to lesser energy configurations? Thus decreasing the loaded energy. I think.

    I agree that stone on a chain would work much better, with a trigger latch for quick release.
  10. Jun 24, 2008 #9


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    That could only occur above the material's recrystallization temperature, which is generally much higher than room temperature.

    Many people believe that the pyramids had booby traps in them that the first explorers were subject to, this is however a falsification. The labyrinthian passages in the pyramids were their best protection.
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2008
  11. Jun 24, 2008 #10


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    True, but an "ancient" spring is unlikely to be built as well as a modern spring: http://eurpub.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/12/3/236.

    A rope will almost definitely decay (too moist an environment) or become dried out and brittle (too dry an environment). Wood could survive, but you'd still need good wood and a lucky set of circumstances.

    Even some mechanism made entirely of stone could decay because of wear. Water will definitely do the trick, but at least a mechanism made entirely of stone would survive in a very dry environment protected from the wind (particularly the sand blown by the wind).

    I think it's possible to run into an ancient mechanism still in working order, but it would be very rare. Unless the maker intentionally gave durability a priority over everything else (ease of manufacture, ease of use during maker's time, etc), it would take a very lucky environmental circumstance for the device to continure working for hundreds of years.

    Of course, if a lot of mechanisms were made, it would be more unlikely still to find absolutely none still in working order. Someone wins the lottery almost every week - you can bet on it.
  12. Jun 24, 2008 #11
    Ummm.... Tobacco Smoking as a Form of child Abuse?

    The wiki article on springs has a mention of this though.
    Ofcourse this does not mention springs left in thier loaded state for hundeds of years. I'd imagine that the material the spring is made of must eventually degrade to some degree.
  13. Jun 24, 2008 #12
    Statutory, you got the wrong thread man.
  14. Jun 24, 2008 #13


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    No, I forgot to actually copy the web page I was currently on. You got a repeat of the last successful paste I did. The right web page was open, though, and it talked all about stress on springs. Man, it would have been great! :rofl: (Geez, thank god I didn't paste the last e-mail I sent before posting.)

    Ah, this might be more relevant: http://nhml.com/resources_NHML_High-Cycle-Fatigue.php
  15. Jul 31, 2008 #14


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    Here's one for the OP...

    Ancient Greeks used "computer" to set Olympics date

    (this thing is from 200 BC... that's about 2200 years ago. Slightly used and crusty from the same amount of time being underwater... yet... they figured out how it worked... and would work with a bit of oil and cleaning. Its made of brass... not stones...

  16. Jul 31, 2008 #15
    So Indiana Jones, The Mummy, etc., always show tombs full of booby traps. Is this really how it happened when tombs were discovered? Or did researches just walk in there with a big grin on their face?
  17. Jul 31, 2008 #16


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    Sadly not, or archeaology field work would be a lot more exciting.
    There are a few egyptian tombs with wells in the floors but this was probably more a diversion than a trap, it would only take out the first unlucky robber - his friends would just put planks accros it.

    Almost all tombs were robbed very soon after they were filled. That's why tut's tomb was such a big deal, it was particularly rich compared to some more important pharoahs but it was about the only one which hadn't been robbed. Most tombs contain just a few broken fragments and maybe a mummy stripped of all it's jewellry.
  18. Jul 31, 2008 #17


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    Let's look at Malta for an answer. Malta is home to some very controversial ruins. Some say they were built from 3600 to 3200 BC., some have shown the ruins to be 10,000 to 11,000 years old.

    Many of the "temples" are actually large astrological measuring devices that recorded the occurrence of the summer/winter solstices and summer/winter equinoxes. The marks that pin point these dates have since been displaced by the phenomenon of "precession" (the earth's 26,000 year cycle of wobble in orbit) and this "displacement" is equal to the effects of precession by a 10,000 year error.

    These monuments were built as a place to experience the solstices etc. They are large observatories in some respects. There aren't any curses or boobie-traps and everyone just walks in with big smiles on their faces.
  19. Jul 31, 2008 #18
    What about European castles? I hear those were boobie-trapped as well.
  20. Jul 31, 2008 #19


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    Sorry! Castles were very busy places, lots of soldiers/staff/animals/family lived in them and worked around the clock, in fact there were probably more bakers than guards on nightshift. There is no need for boobie-traps to stop ninjas sneaking up the walls at night.

    They did have some clever defensive systems though, ever wondered why the spiral staircase spiral up to the right (hint - if you are a right handed attacker with a sword).

    In fact very few mediaeval castels were ever sucessfully attacked, few people even tried - they were so well defended. They were expensive, gold plated prestige projects - the stealth bomber of their day.
  21. Jul 31, 2008 #20


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    It is fairly documented that the Egyptian tombs and pyramids were and still are hazardous to the point of stopping robbers and bad mythological spirits. In some cases there were large, multi-tonned blocks in place and ready to slide over entrances once the carcasses of rulers were laid to rest. This was to keep the slaves and trades people from escaping so they could divulge ways to rob the place and so they could accompany the deceased to the next whatever.
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