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Patience

(1)

I wonder what permits are needed if I wanted to build a house with something like this.

I was just thinking on yesterday how we now have need to exercise because we do not do strenuous work anymore.

Thank you for the post. can't wait for the next 1

Kris De Decker

(2)

Thanks. Permits might be a problem. During the renovation project of the Canterbury Cathedral in the 1970s, when materials were hauled up with the 15th century medieval treadwheel crane, an accident happened when a load got out of control. One of the workers in the treadwheel broke his ankle.

Because of this incident the British Health and Safety Commission forbid further use of the wheel. Not sure what happened since then, but it would not surprise me if the use of human powered cranes is outlawed, at least in the UK...

SpaceHobo

(3)

Of course, treadwheels have a *terrible* problem with hypnosis and vertigo. You're making walking/climbing motions while staying still, your visual cues for the ground curve up and over your head in front of you, and there is the constant passing of slats providing an effect often called "highway hypnosis" in driving contexts.

It's to the point where modern health and safety requirements in the UK limit people to something like one minute of treadwheel operation before having to switch off for someone else.

And just consider the failure mode for a treadwheel attached to a 20 tonne weight when the operator trips and falls!

Fuzzy

(4)

How about rocks on rocks? Wally Wallington moves 20,000lb rocks by teetering them on an off-center pivot and spinning them: http://theforgottentechnology.com/

DC

(5)

It is possible once PO really sets in, we might see a rebirth of mechanical devices like these and others? Could we leverage our new materials and physics knowledge to create devices even more powerful yet lighter and more veratile than ancient methods? Or has too much been forgetten, thus forceing us to re-learn it all over again? I sometimes wonder if our modern engineers would be up to such a task.

Patrick

(6)

Nice article! I have an amateur interest in pre-industrial technology and I really enjoyed this piece.

On permits, safety regulations and PO: Modern safety regulations are a result of a number of changes in the reality of labour over the past century or so; it is unlikely that those realities will hold up under a low-oil future.

Oz

(7)

This is sort of labor intensive technology would be great for kick starting African industrialization.

Unfortunately in the past too many economic aid projects in the developing world relied on capital intensive inputs which required scarce foreign exchange.

Doug

(8)

No doubt modern engineers could learn how to use the old tech, but I expect them to create new methods to meet new realities. Using electrical power if fossil fuel ever becomes unavailable. Though I suspect that has been done before.

Roger

(9)

Very interesting. This is one of the best sites on the internet.

Space cynic

(10)

One possible correction: recent research seems to point to the pyramids being fabricated (I.e. Concrete blocks) and not quarried/dragged/assembled.

If this proves correct, it does make the construction of those buildings much easier to explain.

E.Victor

(11)

Be assured that human powered lifting machines are still used today in construction, I'm an engineer and in one of my projects we needed to lift 2 I-beams to the height of 20m (60 feet) and it was done by a group of 3 people with an old manual crab winch !
I was amazed !

Thecat

(12)

When I first started work as a steeplejack/rigger in the late 1960's when it was rare to see a crane, we used a Telegraph Pole(40 ft.long) that was guyed out,as you would a tent pole with an arrangement of ladders, bosuns chairs,winches, tirfors, snatchblocks and other assorted rigging tackle, to erect industrial steel chimneys,often well over 100ft.high. Even today there are still firms that use jacks,skates and timber every day for moving & erecting plant & machinery.

Name respectfully withheld

(13)

Fascinating article. A great look, professional layout. Some consistently-made grammatical errors and a physics "error" really leaped out though.

As for the grammatics:
"...could be powered by much more people and so less machines would be needed..."
should have been
"...could be powered by many more people and so fewer machines would be needed..."

That error was made in a number of places in the article. It's easy to fix, just get your editor to learn that rule: "Amounts of something" vs. "Numbers of something". Or, just run it through a grammar checker.

Before you think I'm some kind of a crazy stickler for the trivial, consider that there were some errors in physics as well. Both problems reinforced each other to make for some "screaming cognitive dissonance" in the reader (okay, just me :-) ), and also to make you look a little dumb. Sorry.

The physics error was that you referred to the 20% "loss" as if it reduced the *force* obtainable. Reduced force would be a result of static friction in the system which isn't really measurable like that. Percent loss is usually a measure of loss of *energy*, which wouldn't reduce the amount of *force* liftable. I don't think you don't know the difference between energy and force, but it looked a little bit like you might. And, that's a pretty important thing given your subject matter.

Alexander Lopez

(14)

The author seems to forget that those big ancient erections were made thanks to the usage of massive amounts of cheap manpower, a.k.a. slaves.

Slaves were so cheap and abundant that no one cared about technology or safety. With the arrival of industrial revolution work could be done faster using less people; a tendency that continues today with CNC machinery replacing handiworks.

While it's important to learn from the past, it's also important not to forget why those practices fell aside. Great work.

Kris De Decker

(15)

@ Alexander (#14): when it comes to the Ancients, yes. The medieval and early modern human powered cranes described in the article, however, were not operated by slaves. In fact, the improvement of the technology in the late middle ages was due to a shortage of labour. Technology that allows work to be done faster using less people predates the Industrial Revolution by many centuries.

Eugene N.

(16)

I'm in 8th grade right now, studying about the six simple machines. We're currently working on a project called the "Nifty Lifter", where the minimum requirement is to lift a 600 gram weight 5 cm off the ground with an input of 200 grams. Interested to learn more about how the ancients did it, I went ahead and googled, "Ancient lifting devices". This site came up, and I was instantly fascinated by your article. I've heard about the Roman treadwheel machines before, but ingenuity to the extent of multiplying lifting forces through combining such machines has never occurred to me. The well-written article certainly helped in the reading as well. The words read very smoothly, and I had no trouble understanding the mechanics of such machines. Thank you for this detailed article and very educational site.

Mark Welton

(17)

Yes - I found it fascinating too, like many of the other commenters here. And I too was brought up sharp by a certain Physics error. In comparing the inclined plane and the lever, you state that "The mechanical advantage of an inclined plane equals the length divided by the height of the slope. The mechanical advantage of a lever is the distance between the fulcrum and the point where the force is applied, divided by the distance between the fulcrum and the weight to be lifted." But by the (correct) definitions stated in the previous paragraph, what you have just described is the velocity ratio, not the mechanical advantage. Could be a source of confusion for a student of the subject.

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