Columbia Chronologies of Asian History and Culture

By John S. Bowman | Go to book overview
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Scientific-Technological Achievements in Asia

Beginning in prehistoric times, peoples and individuals who would come to be known as Asians (as defined in this volume) made many original and significant contributions to applying science and technology. Many of these are the first known, or among the first known, in the entire world. This pattern of Asian invention and innovation continued throughout the early millennia of recorded history—roughly 3000 to 1 B.C. By the last centuries of this period, Asians were not just applying science and technology, but they had also begun to articulate original insights and concepts in areas such as mathematics, astronomy, mechanical engineering, and chemistry. For the next thousand years, (c. A.D. 1–1000) Asians continued to make many more important scientific advances and technological inventions; in some instances, they may have drawn on work done by Middle Easterners or Greeks, for by this time contacts between these peoples were increasing. By about the year 1200, in fact, a slowly reviving Europe, drawing at times on the prior knowledge and work of the Asians, began to assert itself in all areas, including science and technology. By about the year 1600, the West had completely usurped Asia's role as the major originator and innovator in these fields. There are many and complex reasons for this, but among them was the fact that Asians tended to be bound to traditional ways so that their early successes ended by becoming confining; also, with the arrival of more aggressive or at least assertive Westerners in their midst, Asians tended to be overwhelmed by the new science and technology (some of which in fact drew on earlier Asian discoveries). In any case, it would be the twentieth century before Asians would once again begin to make crucial contributions in the sciences and technology, but by this time, these fields have become truly international enterprises in their concepts, inventions, institutions, and individual contributors. The chronology that follows, therefore, cuts off with the 1500s.

Note: * = oldest known or among the oldest known in the world

*2,000,000–1,800,000B.C.: Among the earliest known stone tools are some flaked stones found at Riwat, Pakistan (former date) and some pointed tools found at Xihoudu, Shanxi, northern China (latter date).

*1,800,000B.C.?: Also at the site of Xihoudu, Shanxi, northern China, is what some claim is the earliest evidence of controlled fire; this claim is not generally accepted.

500,000B.C.: Inhabitants of caves at Zhou


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