'Ancient Impossible' scours history for fantastic feats of engineering
New TV series will make modern viewers appreciate the genius of ancient problem solvers.
Tue, Jun 24, 2014 at 08:25 AM
A still from "Ancient Impossible" shows a recreation of the Romans advancing on Masada using a siege tower. (Image: H2)
It's often said that the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans were way ahead of their time, and one need look no further for proof than the feats of engineering they accomplished without benefit of modern technology. That point is driven home in the H2 series "Ancient Impossible," in which experts and historians explore such engineering mysteries as the Roman siege of Masada, how Egyptians erected massive granite obelisks, and how the Romans built aqueducts that could flow uphill, defying gravity. Premiering June 29, the 10-part series employs computer graphics and holograms to illustrate theories, and sets up side-by-side comparisons to contemporary machines that drive home how clever the ancients were. John Verhoff, executive producer for H2, gave MNN an inside look.
MNN: How did you get the idea for the series?
John Verhoff: The ancient world is an amazing place. There are many times you ask yourself how people thousands of years ago were able to achieve things that often seem impossible to us today, like the construction of the Pyramids, Roman aqueducts, or even Egypt's Abu Simbel. When you think that they did not have the tools or technology we have today, you realize just how amazing their accomplishments were and you wonder how did they do it? This is where the idea for the series came from.
Why did you use the comparative approach?
We want to remind the audience that when you are looking at the ancient world you can't look at it in a vacuum. You have to have something you can compare it to and the easiest way to understand how great some of these ancient achievements were is to compare them to our world today.
What kind of research went into it?
The easiest way to answer this is that there is a ton of research going on that we are pulling from both on the professional level including professors, scholars and researchers as well as the staff of researchers that the producers have put on this project.
Why did you choose the ancient marvels you included?
When we were looking for ancient marvels to include in the show, we had three main criteria to judge them. First: is there the "wow" factor that would literally make the audience sit up and say, "Wow."? Second: is there a good story that accompanies that "wow" factor? And finally, is there a strong engineering build component to the story that we can explore? You can see all three of these at work in our premiere episode with the story of the Roman siege of Masada. We know we had the "wow" in the fact that the Romans were determined to take this supposedly impregnable mountain top fortress. We also had the amazing story of the siege itself, including the determination of the Jewish defenders of Masada. Finally, we had the amazing engineering story of the Romans building a huge earthen ramp to the top of Masada. To top it off they built a huge siege engine, pushed it all the way up the ramp and captured Masada, and they did this all in the middle of one of the most inhospitable places on earth, the Judean desert.
What are some of the most surprising findings in the series?
The most surprising thing about the series is it makes you realize how advanced the ancient world really was. It also makes you wonder if there are inventions and technologies that were developed centuries ago that have become lost to time. And it also makes you wonder where the world would be today if people in the ancient world were able to share their knowledge in a quicker and more productive way. Could the technology we live with today been created earlier?
The hologram illustrating how the Roman stones were moved was pretty spectacular. Do you use it in future episodes?
We do use it in future episodes. It is just a great new tool to help visualize things that would otherwise be too difficult to recreate or visualize with just archive material.
Will there be other re-creation experiments like the one with the Roman aqueduct and inverted siphon system?
There will be plenty more recreations and experiments throughout the series. There is a great steam cannon as well as a solar death ray demonstration coming up in the early episodes.
What do you hope viewers take away?
Our hope is that viewers see both our world and the ancient world in a new way, first, that our world would not be possible without the genius and tenacity of those who have gone before us. We also hope that viewers will realize that the ancient world was capable of things that are hard to imagine for us today. As we like to think, the Ancient world made the impossible, possible.
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