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A Course in the History of Ancient Engineering

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Curriculum and New Course Development in ET

Tagged Division

Engineering Technology

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.29.1 - 26.29.21



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Paper Authors


Fabian Hadipriono Tan P.E. The Ohio State University

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Fabian Hadipriono Tan has worked in the areas of construction of infrastructures and buildings, failure assessment of buildings and bridges, construction accident investigations, forensic engineering, ancient buildings, ancient bridges, and the ancient history of science and engineering for over 40 years. The tools he uses include fault tree analysis, fuzzy logic, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality.

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Adrian Hadipriono Tan The Ohio State University

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Adrian H. Tan is a graduate student at the Ohio State University. Adrian has a B.S. in Computer Science and Engineering and an M.S. in Civil Engineering from the Ohio State University. Adrian is currently working towards a Ph.D. in civil engineering and construction with a focus on computer graphics and virtual simulation in the engineering industry.

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TEACHING HISTORY OF ANCIENT TECHNOLOGY TO ENGINEERING STUDENTSHow many people know that the first 3-D image in the history of humankind was created 34,000years ago by a ‘paleoengineer’ on the rock ceiling of a cave in Italy? How many of us know thatabout 12,000 years ago, hafted tools contributed to the discovery of farming on a major scale,allowing ancient ‘agricultural engineers’ to invent more effective farming tools? What about10,000 years ago, when Mesolithic ‘mechanical engineers’ were able to create hypermicroliths(extremely small stone tools) with skills comparable to present-day diamond cutters, exceptwithout a microscope? How about the more recent use of groma, a very simple surveyinginstrument, first invented by the Etruscans ca. 2,000 years ago, and later employed by the Romanengineers to build the first paved road in history? And do modern students know that thetransformation of clay into celadon and porcelain constituted processes worthy of the fields ofadvanced chemistry and physics? These are just some of innumerable questions most studentsdo not even know have existed. However, as a Russian proverb once put it, “The best of the newis often the long-forgotten past,” and understanding our past engineering accomplishments wouldbe invaluable in preparing for the present and future.This paper introduces the development process of a unique course that blends the numerous areasof science and technology. Development of such a course that integrates two different majorsubjects, i.e., history and engineering, is not straightforward. While the historical perspectivesinvolve the discussions of when, where, who, and what, the engineering aspects would endeavorto solve the why, how, made from-what, and occasionally, what-if questions. Added to thecomplex nature of developing this course are the inclusion of pertinent areas such as agriculture,archeology, architecture, arts, chemistry, civil, geography, geology, hydrology, metallurgy, andphysics. For instance, discussions of times, places, and the inventors of ancient water-raisingdevices are no longer sufficient; an instructor is required to elaborate on the physics andmechanical engineering associated with these devices. The History of Ancient Engineeringdeveloped as a General Education Curriculum (GEC) course for the Engineering EducationInnovation Center (EEIC) includes such topics as ancient engineers, stone tools and hafted tools,the quest for fire, ancient arts, primordial farms, early water-raising devices, the engineering ofclayware, early metallurgy, simple machines, military engineering, water and mechanicalengineering, and time measurement in antiquity. The course is currently offered to students fromvarious disciplines, engineering and non-engineering, with a prerequisite of English 1110, FirstYear Writing or equivalent. Its goal is to increase the student’s technical literacy by expandingtheir knowledge of how ancient engineering has shaped human history and in return, how peoplehave shaped engineering and technology as well as the benefits and risks of technologies. At theend of the semester, students will furnish textual (conceptual reports), graphical (3-D images),and physical projects (manually made or 3-D printed) simulating an ancient device of theirchoice. Results from student and peer evaluations are also presented.

Tan, F. H., & Tan, A. H. (2015, June), A Course in the History of Ancient Engineering Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23370

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