Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Strange Ancient Inventions

I have often wondered how ancient peoples came to discover some of the strange things they discovered. Like, who figured out that if you grated up an inedible cassava root, squeezed out all the juice, dried it in the sun, and then boiled it, you would get a nutritious food?

Now here is a new one, processed rubber:
New research from MIT indicates that not only did these pre-Columbian peoples know how to process the sap of the local rubber trees along with juice from a vine to make rubber, but they had perfected a system of chemical processing that could fine-tune the properties of the rubber depending on its intended use. For the soles of their sandals, they made a strong, wear-resistant version. For the rubber balls used in the games that were a central part of their religious ceremonies, they processed it for maximum bounciness. And for rubber bands and adhesives used for ornamental wear and for attaching blades to shafts, they produced rubber optimized for resilience and strength.

All of these, according to the research by Professor Dorothy Hosler and Technical Instructor Michael Tarkanian of MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, were most likely achieved by varying the proportions of the two basic ingredients, latex from rubber trees and juice from morning-glory vines, which were cooked together.
Who ever thought to boil sap from a rubber tree and morning glory juice together, and why?


ArEn said...

No television or internet- they had a lot of time on their hands.

Steve Lane said...

I have a similar question about Scotch whisky.

kathy said...

Thanks for the insight. Once a year I have to give a talk on a technical subject, outside of my own expertise. This is too good to pass up.
Kathy g

John said...

Some of this stuff seems to imply that some ancient people did a lot of experimentation.