Pre-modern technologies and marvels that would seem magical or incomprehensible to other pre-modern civilizations

Jan 2016
Victoria, Canada
The science fiction author Arthur C. Clark once famously declared, as one of his laws, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Such ideas often come up in the context of modern technologies, particularly in the hypothetical scenario of being transported back to the past with a laptop, machine gun, tank, etc., or bringing a medieval peasant to modern New York. Something I've been thinking about lately is that this could apply almost as much in many pre-modern contexts, with technologies, architectural achievements, and the like advancing sufficiently over the centuries as to be so far out of the experience of the inhabitants of previous eras that they would appear inexplicable, at least initially; bronze age peoples being exposed to ancient Greek technologies/marvels, ancient Greeks being exposed to later Roman technologies/marvels, classical Romans being exposed to high medieval technologies/marvels, etc., or elsewhere perhaps Zhou Chinese being exposed to Han technologies/marvels, Han-period Chinese being exposed to Tang/Song technologies/marvels, etc.

So, with that in mind, what are some pre-modern technologies and marvels -- up to about 1400 AD, let's say -- that would seem magical or incomprehensible to other pre-modern civilizations?
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Ad Honorem
Sep 2013
ACC is only correct if one believes in the principle of magic surely? Many people don’t understand how say nuclear weapons or MRI scanners work but they don’t think they’re magic. Even things like clocks, people can understand the idea of a pendulum and if they get to see behind the dial they can see how the movement of the pendulum is converted to the movement of the hands, even if like me they can’t work out what every cog and ratchet does. Perhaps I’m not fanciful enough ....
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