Technology of the Ancient World Lesson Plans

Technology of the ancient world lesson plans can open students' eyes to the influence of early innovations.

By Daniella Garran

Technology of the Ancient World Lesson Plans

Today’s students can hardly imagine a world devoid of cell phones, iPods and computers. However, these ubiquitous technologies are extremely recent inventions. It is important for students to understand that the definition of technology is something that makes life easier and that ancient cultures fared remarkably well with the primitive and not-so-primitive tools they had available to them. Early tools generally included those related to self-defense, food and shelter. Weapons were needed to kill animals and to defend oneself against invasion (particularly when food was at stake). Rocks and sticks were sharpened to cut meat and scrapers were used to remove meat from an animal’s hide. Beginning with the Neolithic agricultural revolution, man began devising tools to facilitate his existence, as well as that of his community. Animals were domesticated and tools such as the plow and the yoke were created to maximize the potential of having animals do work previously done by humans.

The early river valley civilizations (Mesopotamia, Egypt, India and China) made tools to help them irrigate their crops and take advantage of the water that was in such close proximity. Cultures like the Greeks and Romans, whose land was not optimal for raising diverse crops, made boats which allowed them to sail to places where they could trade for what they needed, and aided in self-defense. Perhaps most impressive is the monumental architecture which was done without the aid of machinery. Many ancient cultures aligned their buildings with the sun, moon and stars simply by using observations. Marble, limestone and granite was quarried and brought to the site where geometry and algebraic formulas were applied. Our ancestors erected buildings without the aid of computer assisted design, or even calculators, and they have more than stood the test of time.

Students should know that the Egyptians built the pyramids without cranes and excavators, that the Greeks determined that illness was not caused by angry deities, and that the Chinese and Mesopotamians were among the first to invent and use the plow to sustain their early agricultural settlements. While some students may argue that iPods, computers and cell phones make life easier, and thereby fit the simplest definition of technology, it is important that they understand that people survived for hundreds of thousands of years without these inventions, and that the most important technology is really that which civilization simply cannot do without in order to sustain our ever-growing population.

A fun way to help students understand the technology of the ancient world is to charge them with a task, but take away modern conveniences that would make the task easier to complete. For example, ask students how they would build a house with no bulldozers, backhoes, and other modern tools.

Another way to help students understand the technology available to the ancients is to have the class generate theories about how certain structures were built. For example, break up the class into small groups and ask them to devise a theory for how the pyramids were built, or how the Greeks built the Parthenon. Have students research the tools and technology that was available to each of these cultures before they generate their theories. Then, ask the class to determine what materials and tools would be used to replicate these structures today.

Finally, a wonderful way for students to gain perspective is to have them ask their parents and grandparents what was invented during their lifetime. Students can generate a timeline of modern technology and then compare it to a timeline of the development of technology beginning with the Neolithic agricultural revolution to see the striking pace at which modern technology has been developed and implemented. For more technology of the ancient world lesson plans see the activities below.

Technology of the Ancient World Lesson Plans:

Technology of the Times

This lesson helps students chart the development of technology through the ages. By creating a technological timeline, students can get a sense of the pace at which technology advanced in ancient times, as opposed to in the modern world. It would be beneficial for students to consider a world in which technology consisted of a sharpened stick rather than a cell phone.

Technology and Medicine

In conjunction with its series on empires, PBS produced this lesson which focuses on the technological contributions of Ancient Rome. The website links to other helpful and relevant lessons focusing on different aspects of the Roman culture, including medicine, architecture and mathematics.

Technologies of Egypt

The technology of ancient Egypt is always fascinating to students of all ages. In this lesson students learn about the advances made by the ancient Egyptians, as well as the continued use of these innovations in the modern world.

An Ancient Revolution: The Written Word

Perhaps the most significant technological advance of the ancient world was the advent of the written language. In conjunction with the Teaching Heritage series, PBS created a lesson which helps students examine the impact of the written word by looking at the creation of the Bible.