What revolutionary technologies did OTL miss?

What sort of uses has zinc for a pre industrial society? Besides being a prestige item I mean. Funny to think when aluminum was first discovered it was pretty difficult to use so it became one of the world's most expensive metals, comparable to gold or silver. Napoleon III had aluminum silverware to impress his guests.
Its so weird to imagine nowadays european royalty flaunting aluminum jewelry.
Zinc is extremely useful alloyed with other metals for corrosion resistance which certainly has a use in practically any place. There may also be a knock-on effect from the discovery and isolation of zinc to trying the same with other metals. There probably isn't much that could be discovered and isolated in Antiquity, but perhaps it could lead to better understanding of bismuth, nickel, and cobalt, all of which were known about since Antiquity and isolated relatively early in Medieval/early modern times.

If you have industries for producing these substances, and these industries survive the chaos of Late Antiquity, then they'd probably be accelerating society's knowledge of chemistry and metallurgy over the centuries.
 
I've discussed this a few times elsewhere, but Pneumatic weaponry is a really interesting AH WI. For a long while, they could be stronger than their powder equivalents and their smokelessness could have resulted in very different approaches to conflicts between two armies (more akin to modern warfare) much earlier.

Also on a fun note, the skateboard.
More specifically, it wouldn't take much to have converted a Roman shield into a skateboard, which sounds ridiculous until you consider that it could majorly have sped up legions marching (except of course when marching up hills).
But the most fun part is imagining Julius Caesar as the Tony Hawk of his time.
 
In the 1880's Edison had patented what he called the Grasshopper Telegraph for use on trains where the telegraph signal jumped from the train to the telegraph lines that run along side. I guess in theory this could work with a mobile telephone device but was not developed as how do the telephone companies get paid.
Quite easily, they rent the mobile telephone device out with a monthly charge--just like AT&T did with regular plug-in telephones, incidentally. This would probably limit it to "institutional" use, but, then, so were the first actual mobile telephones, in the 1940s (they had to go in cars and were too expensive for most people to own).
 
It missed various synathetic or "alternative" foodstuffs such as vegan, plankton based food such as the Soylent corporation's line of products, including Soylent Green.
 
Isolation and deliberate use of zinc in Antiquity maybe? While some high-zinc ores were used and there seems to be a bare indication that people understood something was special about them, there wasn't really much investigation into it despite scholars of the time likely being capable of it. Zinc wasn't isolated or recognised as its own substance until the 13th century in medieval India.

I think the route toward doing this is by widespread knowledge of zinc's property to purify tarnished silver when mixed with seawater. Ancients would recognise this as magical, but some of them might investigate why metals made from certain ores do this and as a by-product discover zinc. At that point, it's just a matter of seeking out similar ores and eventually applying zinc to other uses, although I think it would for centuries mostly be used for religious purposes and artifacts like the regalia of priests and brass decorations in temples.
The problem with isolating zinc was that the temperature needed to extract it from the ores available was only just below the temperature needed to ignite it. Working out a solution needed some experimentation, and as the ore itself could be used when creating brass there wasn't much immediate need seen at the time for isolating the pure metal.

Zinc is extremely useful alloyed with other metals for corrosion resistance which certainly has a use in practically any place. There may also be a knock-on effect from the discovery and isolation of zinc to trying the same with other metals. There probably isn't much that could be discovered and isolated in Antiquity, but perhaps it could lead to better understanding of bismuth, nickel, and cobalt, all of which were known about since Antiquity and isolated relatively early in Medieval/early modern times.

If you have industries for producing these substances, and these industries survive the chaos of Late Antiquity, then they'd probably be accelerating society's knowledge of chemistry and metallurgy over the centuries.
Also, the "tin baths" widely used in the 19th & early 20th centuries were actually zinc rather than tin, because zinc is a stronger material and lighter in weight. Metal buckets, too, and watering cans, and probably some other items for use in contact with water.
 
I've discussed this a few times elsewhere, but Pneumatic weaponry is a really interesting AH WI. For a long while, they could be stronger than their powder equivalents and their smokelessness could have resulted in very different approaches to conflicts between two armies (more akin to modern warfare) much earlier.
Also, they had a "rapid fire" capability.

The Austrians actually equipped a battalion with air-rifles at some point in the late 18th century or early 19th century, but that model of gun -- in addition o being relatively expensive -- tended to have technical problems and was too complicated for easy repair "in the field": Also, the compressed air reservoirs couldn't easily be refilled in the field either but their cost meant that the authorities didn't want them just discarded when used up and the empties were an extra burden for the soldiers to carry.
 
Also, they had a "rapid fire" capability.

The Austrians actually equipped a battalion with air-rifles at some point in the late 18th century or early 19th century, but that model of gun -- in addition o being relatively expensive -- tended to have technical problems and was too complicated for easy repair "in the field": Also, the compressed air reservoirs couldn't easily be refilled in the field either but their cost meant that the authorities didn't want them just discarded when used up and the empties were an extra burden for the soldiers to carry.
Which is a similar situation to what occurred with early box magazines. This is why the first magazines were internal to the guns they were used on. Today we kind of take the manufacturing quality we are used to for granted but it took centuries to get mass production to the level of quality we are used to and expect.
 
I think that if they made more of Archimedes concentrating mirrors, they might have developed a speculum type metal made of tin and copper which could be used for signaling, solar ovens and similar things. There are a number of spin off technologies that could be developed from bronze concentrating mirrors in my opinion. Ultimately, they might be able to melt sand into glass, or melt metal to make allows of copper. It could be quite interesting.
 
Also, they had a "rapid fire" capability.

The Austrians actually equipped a battalion with air-rifles at some point in the late 18th century or early 19th century, but that model of gun -- in addition o being relatively expensive -- tended to have technical problems and was too complicated for easy repair "in the field": Also, the compressed air reservoirs couldn't easily be refilled in the field either but their cost meant that the authorities didn't want them just discarded when used up and the empties were an extra burden for the soldiers to carry.
Ctesebius was supposed to have worked on an air powered ballistae. It did not work, but it could have led to air storage at a much earlier time. Imagine if there was an ancient piston ballistae that could throw metal darts long distances. There is also a spring torsion ballistae. While these would be weapons initially, the thing which is really interesting is ancient energy storage using springs, or air.

There might have been some different ways to do this. This would include capstans which were around in Roman times. There was a Roman ship that was supposed to go very fast for short periods of time because they used cattle to turn capstans which would release energy into wheels on the side of the ships. The principal of the flywheel was not hard to reach in ancient times. It would not be that different from the potters wheel. or spindle. The ability to store energy with bellows, or in a flywheel could have developed much earlier.
 
Euphorbia resinifa was used by the Romans to incapacitate horses in a powdered form. Also Hannibal used a form of laughing gas, a lachrymator, a distillate of camel dung and slaked lime. Natural incapacitants could have been developed much earlier. This includes things like sulfur covered sticks which were used by the Spartans to drive enemies from the walls. Combine this with the use of incendiaries from distilled bitumen or alcohol and and you have much earlier use of chemical warfare. There are other things as well like the use of rotten meat and fish to create bad smells. Also wsps nests can be used. For water sources there is hellebore.
 
Euphorbia resinifa was used by the Romans to incapacitate horses in a powdered form. Also Hannibal used a form of laughing gas, a lachrymator, a distillate of camel dung and slaked lime. Natural incapacitants could have been developed much earlier. This includes things like sulfur covered sticks which were used by the Spartans to drive enemies from the walls. Combine this with the use of incendiaries from distilled bitumen or alcohol and and you have much earlier use of chemical warfare. There are other things as well like the use of rotten meat and fish to create bad smells. Also wsps nests can be used. For water sources there is hellebore.
IIRC there's evidence of beehives and wasp nests being used in prehistoric times to drive enemies from hiding places. Now one interesting form of poison gas which takes minimal preparation is poison ivy (and/or its relatives). When burned, it produces a toxic and irritating smoke that seems to act like tear gas, except in some people breathing it causes severe allergic reactions and possibly death. That sounds like a very useful tool for crowd control or siege warfare. The problem would be mass production, but it should be possible to deliberately encourage poison ivy in coppices and other groves of trees. Local villages and landowners would benefit from this since the plants can be used as herbal medicine and the seeds produce a useful oil for wood varnish, so maybe you'd even domesticate the plant in the process.
 
IIRC there's evidence of beehives and wasp nests being used in prehistoric times to drive enemies from hiding places. Now one interesting form of poison gas which takes minimal preparation is poison ivy (and/or its relatives). When burned, it produces a toxic and irritating smoke that seems to act like tear gas, except in some people breathing it causes severe allergic reactions and possibly death. That sounds like a very useful tool for crowd control or siege warfare. The problem would be mass production, but it should be possible to deliberately encourage poison ivy in coppices and other groves of trees. Local villages and landowners would benefit from this since the plants can be used as herbal medicine and the seeds produce a useful oil for wood varnish, so maybe you'd even domesticate the plant in the process.
I've read of sulphur being burned, producing toxic sulphur dioxide gas, as an alternative to bee or wasp nests against attempts at tunneling under fortified places' walls... and also of the Napoleonic French using this gas (generated in tar-sealed chambers aboard a ship) to exterminate captives during the suppression of a slave revolt on Martinique after Napoleon had re-legalized slavery in French possessions.
 
Last edited:
Also on a fun note, the skateboard.
More specifically, it wouldn't take much to have converted a Roman shield into a skateboard, which sounds ridiculous until you consider that it could majorly have sped up legions marching (except of course when marching up hills).
But the most fun part is imagining Julius Caesar as the Tony Hawk of his time.
I think the main obstacle would be that you'd need a smooth surface to go on, and most pre-modern roads were too bumpy to skate over.
 
I think the main obstacle would be that you'd need a smooth surface to go on, and most pre-modern roads were too bumpy to skate over.
They wouldn't be comfortable, but should still be skateable. After all, said roads were historically travelled on with wheels. I imagine however that if their potential had been realised, more effort would be put into smoothing said roads
 
I think the main obstacle would be that you'd need a smooth surface to go on, and most pre-modern roads were too bumpy to skate over.
Ball bearings too, DC electrical generators are a relatively simple design & work as motors but again you need quality bearings for the rotor to spin on.
 
Ball bearings too, DC electrical generators are a relatively simple design & work as motors but again you need quality bearings for the rotor to spin on.
You need those for the fine control of modern skateboards, whilst this is intended just to make going in straight lines faster (naturally with a little bit of turning as most wheels can do).
 
You don't have trucks, you don't have polyurethane wheels, you don't have ball bearings, and you don't have a flat surface to stand on and help you keep balance. Not skateboards at all, and completely unworkable.
Also, why would a legionary want to risk breaking his bones, or - more likely - the shield that's essential to keeping him from harm?
 
They wouldn't be comfortable, but should still be skateable. After all, said roads were historically travelled on with wheels. I imagine however that if their potential had been realised, more effort would be put into smoothing said roads
Since skateboard wheels are quite a bit smaller than cartwheels, a bump in the road would be more likely to tip over a skater than a wagoner.
 
Top