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


Forum Staff
Apr 2010
T'Republic of Yorkshire
In the quote Clarke does not define 'who' might think it was magic. So clearly there is wriggle room for people with a more logical bent to their life.

If a person suddenly appeared and was able to turn lead into gold. there would be 3 basic responses.

1. How is he managing the heat and pressure from the transmutation

2. I saw Penn and Teller do that in Vegas

3. Its a miracle

I think Clarke is pitching his quote to group three
I can do it. Just give me a particle accelerator.
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Ad Honorem
Feb 2011
For most of these I imagine people would be smart enough to realize that the internal mechanics are artificial. The minute they look at the internal gearing, no matter how complicated, the mysticism would vanish. They might be impressed, but they wouldn't think it's magic.

There are some inventions in which they wouldn't understand, such as gunpowder, dyes of a certain color, metalsmithing, etc, etc..... They know that if you mix these things together, or heat things to a hot enough temperature, certain things happen. We wouldn't truly understand these things until modern chemistry, but even without it the ancients didn't pass it off as magic.

Now there are certain inventions in which the internal mechanics are hidden, so you might be able to 'trick' some ancients into believing they are magic, if only for a short while. If they had time enough (probably very short time) to think about it, or if they got a glimpse of the internal mechanics of the machinery, the machine would lose its magic. They'd might not know how it works well enough to reproduce one, but they'll know it's not magic. There are a great number of designs in which the internal mechanics are hidden.

Heron's automatic opening doors:

Traditional Japanese automaton:

Su Song's clock:

Al-Jazeri's automaton orchestra:


Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
United States
If Stargate has taught me anything, it's that humans will take tech that is light years ahead of anything they've ever encountered, stick a USAF sticker on it, and viola, they know how to work it.
And you can suddenly learn an ancient language (without any prior linguistic expertise) when your friend who knew it leaves the show.