Ancient Past of Modern Items: Plumbing and More

The need for water in enclosed spaces meant that there had to be a system of receiving the water, as well as removing it when it became too dirty. In this article, you will learn how ancient civilizations handled this issue, as well as the culture attributed with creating the first ice skate.  


When communities started to flourish during ancient times, they needed a way to deal with the increase in population and issues of waste. Ancient civilizations, such as the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Indians and the Chinese, established their own systems of plumbing. For example, the Romans were known for their public baths and required a way to enjoy clean water, as well as drain out the waste. The first known plumbing system dates back to 2700 BC. Researchers found standard earthenware plumbing pipes associated with settlements of the Indus Valley Civilization.

For some reason, early civilizations did not find it urgent to improve on their plumbing systems. Advancements were slow to emerge and not much had changed since the Romans created a system of aqueducts and lead pipes were used. It wasn’t until the 19th century that changes started to be made. Open sewage ditches and cesspools were eventually replaced with of separate, underground water and sewage systems.

Centralized Heating

How did ancient people keep warm without the technology we have today? From around 1,000 BC, central heating systems did exist. In northern Roman, the ancient cities in this region heated their air with the use of furnaces. The heat traveled through empty spaces located under the floors and out of pipes situated in the walls. They called this system a hypocaust. This method of centralized heating came in handy for people visiting public baths and private homes. A similar system was also detected in ancient Korea. Known as ondol, heated air flowed under and out of the floor.

Ice Skates

Early civilizations that lived in places around the world with an icy terrain often came up with ways to adapt to their environment. While ice skates are typically thought of as a form of recreation today, the invention made hunting much easier for the Finns. One study suggests that Finnish inhabitants were the first to develop the first ice skates about 5,000 years ago. Using animal bones, the skates helped people save energy as they hunted during a harsh winter. According to an artifact discovered in Scandinavia, the first time the skate received its metal blade was around 200 AD. The metal was fitted to a thin strip of copper that was folded and affixed to the underside of a leather shoe.


Ancient Assyrians have a history with astronomy that involves the use of lenses. Using a piece of rock crystal, the Nimrud lens was created. Dating back 3,000 years ago, the artifact was found by Austen Henry Layard at the Assyrian palace of Nimrud (thus the name). It is believed to have been used as a magnifying glass or a burning glass for jumpstarting fires by manipulating sunlight. The engravings that Assyrian craftsmen made were intricate, making this kind of lens very helpful. Some scientists believe that the lens was used by the ancient Assyrians as part of a telescope, which is why they were quite knowledgeable when it came to astronomy.