Saturday 30 March 2013

Last of Time Team.

I watched the last of the Time Team television broadcasts a few days ago. I shall miss the program because it first whetted my appetite for ancient technological history. But like all ancient historical events, Time Team has had its day. Man has come a long way in the last few thousand years. He has developed many practical technological skills. Prehistory comprises the time from the first appearance of modern man in Africa some 200,000 years ago. Up to the invention of writing and the beginning of recorded history.

The Stone Age is a broad prehistoric period, during which stone flints were widely used to make tools. I watched as Phil Harding enthused over the various stone age finds. Flint, bone and antler tools were the technology of choice.  The stone age period ended between 4500 BC and 2000 BC. This period in time also coincided with another change, the movement away from hunter gatherer and the development of farming. Plus the building of some amazing stone monuments.

The first technological change away from the stone age was into the Bronze Age. This was the first of the metalworking periods. However, the move from stone to bronze happened at different times in different parts of the world. That is why there is such a wide changeover period of about 2,500 years. In Britain the bronze age evolved around 2100 to 740 BC. This gave a shorter changeover period of about 1,500 years. A much later metalworking technological change was the move from bronze to iron. The British Iron Age lasted from about 800 BC until the time of the Roman Conquest in AD 43.

The Roman conquest of Britain was quite a fast process, beginning effectively in AD 43 under Emperor Claudius. Farming was developed and significant amounts of crops were grown for the first time on a scale beyond self sufficiency. There was also a significant import export trade of goods across the Roman empire.  The conquest was all over by AD 410. However, the legacy of the Roman empire continued to be felt for several centuries in Britain. The Romans developed other technologies such as the beginnings of a road infrastructure, which can still be seen in the landscape today.

The next change was to the dark ages as a historical period. The Medieval period is the period in history that lasted from around the 6th until the 15th century.  The term dark age emphasizes the cultural and economic deterioration that supposedly occurred in the whole of Europe following the decline of the Roman Empire. The reality was that when the Roman empire nose dived into oblivion so did all of the outposts. There was little call left for being anything other than self sufficient. The 15th century was the beginning of the renaissance  (circa 1453) with a return to research and learning after the dark ages. The new age of discovery with increased exploration that created new trade routes. It was the time of a new technological break through by master printer Johann Gutenberg. And his invention of movable type press (1440) that made mass-printing of books possible.

From the 16th century onwards there was a period of enlightenment once again. A time of unprecedented change, the very beginning of the modern era of science, a time of great exploration. A time of religious and political turmoil and extraordinary literature. In 1543, Copernicus published his theory that the Earth was not the centre of the universe, rather, the Earth and the other planets orbited around the Sun. Called the Copernican Revolution, his theory forever changed astronomy. Advancements were made in the theories of mathematics, geography and natural history. A time of inventions related to the fields of engineering, mining and navigation.

Out on the canals, boaters are enjoying what's left from the early days of the industrial revolution. However, the first canals in Britain are thought to have been developed during the Roman occupation of Britain. In Europe the canals came to prominence in the 15th century, with the invention of flash locks consisting of a single gate. Flash locks were only practical where there was plenty of water available.

Today we talk about the digital revolution. Digital technology has revolutionised the interconnected world. A significant technological statement was made in a research paper published in 1965. And the observation that over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years. The period often quoted as being "18 months" is due to Intel executive David House, who predicted that period for a doubling in chip performance (A combination of the effect of more transistors and their being much faster in operation)

Moore's law is named after Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore, who also described the trend in his 1965 paper. The paper noted that the number of components in integrated circuits had doubled every year from the invention of the integrated circuit in 1958 until 1965 and predicted that the trend would continue. Moore's prediction has proven to be uncannily accurate.

In 2010 Eric Schimdt, CEO of Google said "Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003."He also said “I spend most of my time assuming the world is not ready for the technology revolution that will be happening to them soon.”  A mind boggling statistic. However, what is needed now is technology to ensure the reliability of the content. Now that would be a real technological breakthrough.

To put it into context - every two days we produce as many polystyrene foam chips as we did from the dawn of civilisation until 2003.


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