Ancient Seismometer From 132 CE

by Sankalan Baidya
Ancient Seismometer

You think modern man is super-smart? Well, think again! Even with all the glitz and glam of our ultra-modern and advanced technologies, we often need to hide our faces in shame when we come across artifacts of ancient world. It is during those moments that we start thinking – are we truly advanced enough? The ancient seismometer is one such artifact that has left us puzzled and perplexed. Well, it is not the only one that makes our heads in shame. There are many more but for today, we will stick with this one.

While modern day seismometers are pretty effective in detecting earthquakes, who knew that a highly accurate seismoscope or seismometer had already been made back in 132 CE (or AD). It was made by a Chinese inventor, astronomer, mathematician and engineer named Zhang Heng.

The seismometer resembled a wine jar and had a diameter of 6 feet. There were eight dragons attached on the outside in face down position. Each dragon representing one of the eight direction. Each dragon had a small bronze ball placed in its mouth. Underneath the dragons were 8 bronze toads with widely open mouth. In an event of an earthquake, one of balls from a dragon’s mouth would fall into the mouth of a toad. Which ball would fall would depend on the direction from which a seismic wave would come. Once a ball fell, it would make a sound and alert people about the earthquake.

The device was indeed very accurate and was capable of detecting earthquakes afar. As a matter of fact, the first earthquake it detected was supposedly somewhere in far east. Few days later, a man came riding from east and confirmed that there was indeed an earthquake.

No one knows for sure what was inside the barrel because those interior parts have perished over time. Modern day scientists say that there must have been some kind of sensing mechanism such as a pendulum. A replica of the seismometer was created in 2005 and it turned out to be pretty accurate.

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