Ancient Civilizations and Contributions

Humans created societies, states, and empires from the late Neolithic period to 1500 CE to allow for the growth of the individual. Achievements and inventions in both math and science have created enormous contributions to the growth of individuals. Monuments from these times present the underlying concepts of individual growth although such civilizations have occurred varyingly across the globe[1]. Ancient China, Ancient Greece, and the Mayan Empire are responsible for the developments of influential inventions and ideas concerning advances in math and science in terms of individual growth. Ancient China became unified under the Qin Dynasty. Not only was China unified by the Qin Dynasty, but unified scripts and languages were also invented to replace the regional scripts that had already existed[2]. Ancient China is known to have some of the oldest and longest living civilizations in the history of the world[3]. Ancient China had also invented the currency of bronze coins and developed standardized units regarding weights and measurements. Ancient China is well known for the “Four Great Inventions” given their inventions of paper, the compass, gunpowder, and printing processes3. Such advancements led Ancient China from the primitive state to a more advanced state and enabled human development to prosper further. However, “The Great Wall” barred the greatest achievement conducted by Ancient China3. The Great Wall is an architectural wonder that highlights the potential that the people had thanks to the advancements made and allowed for the growth of their civilization. The inventions that Ancient China developed may have been surpassed by those of Ancient Greece. Ancient Greece was a civilization in which belonged to the period of the Greek Dark Ages[4]. These civilizations survived until the end of antiquity. Such accomplishments of Greece placed emphasis on science and mathematics contributions along with the development of the modern-day democracy. Some achievements were the development of the physical law of displacement being discovered from their advancement contributions to the mathematics world. The birthplace for science became known in Ancient Greece. Such advancements displayed the cultural sciences of society while investigating the impact that science had on individuals4. The roles of science were examined as a cultural phenomenon throughout the world while encouraging the further developments of linguistics, literary, political, religious, sociological, and technological factors. Ancient Greece also gained great success regarding the achievements they contributed to the field of architecture4. It was the great minds of Ancient Greece that has presented this civilization into what it is known today, and such impacts are still being felt. On the other side of the world, the ancient civilizations of the Mayan Empire made significant achievements in math and science as well. The Ancient Mayans were a diverse set of groups in which were known to be sophisticated and complex civilizations[5]. The Ancient Mayans developed the calendar and they also unified sets of laws. Such laws enabled the growth of individuals and the government1. The Ancient Mayans also developed a complex understanding regarding astronomy, which dealt with a lot of mathematics and science together. These three ancient civilizations showcase the impact advancements in math and science had on the growth of the individual and on the growth of their societies. This essay is, therefore, focusing on scientific and mathematical discoveries by respective civilizations above.

Discovery of the gunpowder

Chinese discovered gunpowder in 850 A.D under the Tung dynasty. This dynasty was known to be warlike and somewhat oppressive. This factors prompted the emperor to commit alchemists­­6 to make gunpowder. The dynasty had been suffering from constant coups and gunpowder saved the situation. It was mainly made of nitrates, Sulphur and charcoal elements which got oxidized very fast and combusted. This technology was not safeguarded hence promoted massive production of weapons like bombs, guns, and canons. This invention promoted the overthrow of the dynasty and by Yang Xingmi7,[6] who became the new emperor. He led the next dynasty until its fall later in time. The gunpowder,  however, evolved in the future and became faster in combustion hence swifter attacks. This also increased the speed of the load- bullet, hence increasing china’s chances of winning war ancient wars.

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The invention of the compass

The early Chinese also invented the early printing press mechanism. This was discovered in the 4th to the 7th century and was used to print religious messages at first but evolved later. It worked by making wooden shapes of the images (symbols) you wanted to print8. After having the wooden shapes, they would then be transferred to ink then printed on textile. The art was not easy hence was used to store very specific data at first. Later it spread to education, signs and casual printing. In the initial stages, printing was only for the rich class in the society as well as the Royals. This printing distinguished them from the rest hence made printing quite a precious thing. In the future, it developed to scroll printing which just stored relevant information over time. The printing mechanism also changed with time from using wood to using clay mounds. This is because clay mounds had less absorbency thus maximized ink usage. The method also evolved to satisfy the need for a better quality of print outs that were more uniform.

The ancient Chinese too made the compass. This was a major discovery as it made navigation easier. It was discovered in 206 B.Cduring the Song dynasty. It was made of iron oxide and which pointed to the south at all times[7]. Normally, they placed the iron oxide needle on a wooden platform which was then floated on the water. This was done to ensure accuracy as the north-south cannot be affected by dynamics like sun, weather or anything. This tool increased marine travel as the compass had unmatched consistency in direction. It also served a religious purpose to the Chinese. They believed that if you placed your house with the north-south alignment, you had luck. This promoted directionally placed the infrastructure for those who could afford it. Currently, the compass is also used but has had a few evolutions of its own and is currently very helpful in navigation.

Greece too had some technological developments of their own. In the 20 B.C, they made the watermill powered by mostly water or human effort[8]. This system worked by having a set of gears strategically placed to be able to thrash and grind cereals and other foodstuffs to the floor. The cog system was very powerful and efficient as it helped save time, manpower as well as quality. This enabled Greece to diversify its nutritive system and achieve staple food status. This is because milling was very problematic hence some types of food were reserved for trade or for those who could afford millers of their own. The milling, however, had industrial uses that were essentially sawing and fulling marble. This technology however spread later and evolved to making hydroelectric power today.

The ancient Greeks discovered the odometer too which was used to measure the distance covered by wheeled objects[9]. This discovery was by Archimedes of Syracuse and which solely relied on the diameter of the wheel to measure the evolutions made. This was of course measured using a set of cogs that were located under the wheeled vehicle. The cogs were calibrated discs which were joined to the gearbox and measured the number of revolutions done by specific cogs. They were very accurate and were used to measure the millage of the wheeled vehicles back then.  The odometer also helped measure the geographic distances due to accuracy hence promoting the map making industry too. The odometer’s accuracy revolutionized measurements and was used to make vehicles in the 1885’s.

The Greek also discovered the first alarm clocks that relied on a pebble and gong system- more like the hourglass system. It worked such that, pebbles were set on a high place and set to drop after a set time. The pebbles dropped on a gong and which made a lot of noise hence an alarm. This technology though primitive was used by Plato to determine meals time, attending lectures and time to wake up. It essentially helped in time management as most people depended on guesswork or position of the sun. This first alarm also prompted better versions to be made from the same and that was more specific and accurate like the sundial. The alarm helped promote the Greek economy in the future as people were finally able to determine the time to spend in economic activities as well as casual ones. Thus creating a balance of time usage.

The Greek people also promoted the scientific field of cartography[10]. Cartography is simply defined as map making. Greeks were known to travel much and after a long time discovered that they could make things easier for new travelers. This prompted them to make geographical maps showing roads as well as physical features, and towns. There were several maps built by 150 A.D and which proved to be inaccurate. Most had the prejudice that Greece was centrally placed on the planet and that it was the biggest of all kingdoms10. This however as corrected by Anaximander in the 6th century and who drew a cylindrical map with more logically sized countries. However, maps served the purpose of navigation and which enabled them to plan ahead more easily now that they knew the way forehand. It also enabled travelers and traders to plan for best routs as well as safest ones. This helped reduce time wastage during the journey as chances of getting lost on the way drastically reduced.

The field of mathematics too had some advancements of its own in the  Mayan kingdom. The Mayans are believed to have discovered the ‘zero’ on their own[11]. This is mostly as they were very segregated from the rest of the world as compared to others. The zero was meant to represent nothingness or a vacuum in any forum. In their arithmetic, they used the vegisial system that comprised mostly of the three symbols and with groups of 20 in each. The zero was a shell shape, one was a dot, and five was represented by a bar. Their arithmetic method used powers as multiplication was quite long. It, however, made trade easier, and also helped aid basic calculations. The zero they discovered helped solve the problem of what was after nine or even before one. Their remarkable accuracy helped in the numbering of their calendar too.

The Mayans too discovered the Mayan calendar that had 365 days and nineteen months[12]. It was not chart like but was circular with three corresponding wheels which determined the day date year and name and occasion of the day. The three wheels were; the long count calendar, the Tzolkin (divine) calendar and the civil calendar and which worked together to determine the date. The days also had some beliefs linked to them, some illustrating luck, others bad luck and other beliefs. Their calendar also lined with astrology and which linked to their belief systems.  The calendar was, however, accurate as it did not account for the quarter revolution made at the end of the year. This calendar system enabled them to calculate as far as their believed creation day to their last day- end of the earth.  These factors made religion more sensible and unified the kingdom on the respective occasions.

`Scientific and mathematical discoveries have largely affected the developments made by humans in the current timeline. Most of the infrastructure used today has taken many years to evolve to what it is today and has undoubtedly affected everyone. Some discoveries like the alarm and calendar have revolutionized our perception of time. Credit is only to the inventors who took their time to satisfy the need to save time. It is however argued that some things had been discovered long before the dated time, for example, zero. This may be true but what remains is that it has positively impacted the world systems in all sectors. For example, it paved the way for early programming which had only 0, 1. In summation, all scientific advancements are relevant to us humans.


Bentley, Jerry H., and Herbert F. Ziegler. Traditions & Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011.

Heath, Thomas Little. A history of Greek mathematics. Clarendon, 1921.

Man, John. The Terra Cotta Army: China’s First Emperor and the Birth of a Nation. Boulder: Da Capo Press, 2009. Accessed May 11, 2019, ProQuest Ebook Central.

Teresi, Dick. Lost Discoveries: the ancient roots of modern science–from the Babylonians to the Maya. Simon and Schuster, 2002.

Wang, Youjun. “Hands-on mathematics: two cases from ancient Chinese mathematics.” Science & Education 18, no. 5 (2009).

“The Mayan Calendar”. Timeanddate.Com, Last modified 2019.

Kane, Njord. “The Ancient Maya Understood Value Of Zero”. Read Icon, Last modified 2016.

Benz Patent Motor Car. “Benz Patent Motor Car: The First Automobile (1885–1886) | Daimler”. Daimler, Last modified 2019.

Adhikari, Saugat. “Top 10 Inventions And Discoveries Of Ancient Greece”. Ancienthistorylists, Last modified 2019.

Aber, James S. “History Of Maps And Cartography”. Academic.Emporia.Edu, Last modified 2008.

A Marvel Channel. “Printing Press”. HISTORY, Last modified 2018.

Heather. (2019, July). Learn Chinese history. Retrieved from Chinese Compass History: Invention, Dynasty, and Navigation:


Andrade, T. (2017). The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West. In T. Andrade, The Gunpowder Age (pp. 30-31). Princeton: Princeton University Press.



[1]Jerry H Bentley and Herbert F. Ziegler. Traditions & Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011).


[2]John Man. The Terra Cotta Army: China’s First Emperor and the Birth of a Nation. (Boulder: Da Capo Press, 2009). Accessed May 11, 2019, ProQuest Ebook Central.


[3]Youjun Wang. “Hands-on mathematics: two cases from ancient Chinese mathematics.” Science & Education 18, no. 5 (2009): 631-640.



[4]Thomas LittleHeath.A history of Greek mathematics. (Clarendon, 1921), 1.


[5], Dick Teresi. Lost Discoveries: the ancient roots of modern science–from the Babylonians to the Maya. (Simon and Schuster, 2002).


  1. Tonio Andrade, ‘‘The Gunpowder Age’’, Princeton: Princeton University Press(2017).30

7.Tonio Andrade, ‘‘The Gunpowder Age’’,. Princeton: Princeton University Press(2017).31

8A Marvel Channel, “Printing Press”, History, The Marvel channel 6th June 2019)


[7].Saugat Adhikari, “Top 10 Inventions And Discoveries Of Ancient Greece”, Ancient history lists. (Accessed on  6th June 2019)

[8]Sophia, “Watermills in Byzantine Greece (Fifth-Twelfth Centuries).” Byzantion volume 84(2014).

[9] Saugat Adhikari, “Top 10 Inventions And Discoveries Of Ancient Greece”, Ancienthistorylists. (Accessed on 6th June 2019)

[10]James S. Aber, “History Of Maps And Cartography”, Academic.Emporia.Edu. (Accessed on 6th June 2019)

11.Njord Kane, “The Ancient Maya Understood Value Of Zero”, Read Icon. on 6th June 2019)

[12]“The Mayan Calendar”, Timeanddate.Com. (Accessed on 6th June 2019)

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