Category Archives: Kids: Science and Tech

KIDS’ BLOG! Blowing Their Tops: The Destructive History and Amazing Science of Volcanoes

Lava flow from Mount Kilauea. Image credit: Adrian Glover

Lava flow from Mount Kilauea. Image credit: Adrian Glover

UPDATE! This post was originally published on September 3rd, 2013. Right now an ancient volcano in Hawaii is causing a lot of trouble for residents. The Kilauea Volcano, located on the Big Island of Hawaii, is actually its youngest volcano, but that doesn’t mean it’s a baby by any stretch of the imagination. It is over 300,000 years old and has been constantly active since prehistoric times. It is one of the world’s most active volcanos and features prominently in many Polynesian legends, including the story of Pele, a volcanic goddess who is said to live in the Kilauea crater.[1] There is even archaeological evidence of the eruptions that have taken place since antiquity. Footprints frozen in time leave reminders of those who have lost their lives to this powerful force of nature.[2] Continue reading

KIDS’ BLOG! Chinese Kites Soar Throughout History

Chinese Bird KiteDid you know that kites were invented 2,300 years ago?  A Chinese philosopher, Mo Di, who lived from 468-376 BCE, designed the very first kite in the shape of an eagle.[1]  It was not made out of paper, because paper had not been invented yet.  Instead, he used wood.  Imagine how hard it must have been to fly a wooden kite!  Amazingly, he did manage to keep it in the air for a whole day.  His student, Gongshu Ban, later nicknamed Lu Ban, learned how to build kites from Mo Di.  He even improved upon his mentor’s design, making a bamboo kite in the shape of a magpie, which is a bird common on the Eurasia continent.  Lu Ban was able to keep his kite in the air for up to three days.[2] Continue reading

KIDS’ BLOG! Rain, Rain Go Away: Ancient Weather, Modern Predictions

hurricane

Update! This post was originally published on June 25, 2013. Hurricane season 2014 has been pretty quiet so far, but you never know when a tiny little storm system can gain momentum and become a full-fledged hurricane. Ancient civilizations had to face threats from weather just like we do today, but they didn’t have the amazing technology we have that can track and predict storms. Read our post and learn more about ancient weather and take advantage of our all new activities after the post! Continue reading

KIDS’ BLOG! Seeing Ancient Invisible Ink Through Modern Eyes

Image by Noel Hidalgo Tan, Antiquity Publications.

Image by Noel Hidalgo Tan, Antiquity Publications.

Invisible ink, such a simple and yet crafty way to keep secrets. You may know that it was used in wars such as the American Civil War, the American Revolutionary War and both World Wars, but did you know it was being used thousands of years ago by ancient civilizations? In the first century AD, Pliny the Elder wrote in his Natural History, an early encyclopedia, about how the milk of the tithymallus plant could be adapted as an invisible ink. Ovid spoke about secret ink in his Art of Love. Ahmed Qalqashandi, a medieval Egyptian writer and mathematician, described several types of invisible ink.[1] And recently an article published in LiveScience explored a startling new discovery at Cambodia’s famous Angkor Wat temple regarding invisible ink.[2] Ancient invisible ink didn’t always start out as invisible and in this case the ancient artists probably had no idea that their stunning works would one day be hidden to the naked eye. Continue reading

KIDS’ BLOG! Archimedes’ Ancient Screw Saves 21st Century Britain From Flooding

Spaans-BabcockWhat do you do when the rains keep coming and floods sweep across your country? As the waters rise and cover your fields and towns, what do you use to save your home? Do you write a fancy new computer program, download the newest anti-flooding app on your phone or design complicated modern robots to deal with it? Well, people in the United Kingdom are facing this very problem and you might be surprised to learn they aren’t turning to modern technology. Instead, they’re looking back to one of antiquity’s greatest scientists and inventors, Archimedes, and to his giant water screws.

Continue reading

KIDS’ BLOG! How “Thinking Outside the Box” Has Helped Archaeologists

Girl with Light BulbSuppose that you have a problem to solve, but nothing you’ve tried so far has worked. What would you do?  You could try “thinking outside the box.”

“Thinking outside the box” is a creative way to imagine other possibilities. It involves coming at the problem from a different perspective—one that hasn’t been tried yet.  The “box” is a fun way of picturing the ordinary ways of solving a problem.  It contains all the things that have been tried before.  When you think outside the “box,” you stretch your imagination and explore how else the problem could be solved.  Scientists, philosophers and inventers have all discovered that this method is one of the best ways to figure out the answer to a stubborn problem. Continue reading

KIDS’ BLOG! Heirloom Seeds From Our Great-Great-Great-Great-Great (and many more!) Grandparents

child gardeningHave you ever planted a seed and watched it grow into a plant? It’s an incredible feeling to see a tiny little seed turn into a fruit or a vegetable. Did you know that some of the seeds we use to grow our food today come from seeds harvested by cultures that existed thousands of years ago? These ancient seeds are called heirloom seeds and they’ve been passed down from generation to generation.  They produce some of the most delicious fresh fruits and vegetables of all varieties. Continue reading

KIDS’ BLOG! The Invention of the Wheel: How the Ancient Sumerians Got Humanity Rollin’!

“Wooden Cartwheel” Image courtesy of Stoonn/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When we think about the invention of the wheel, the picture that jumps into our minds is the wheel from a car or maybe an ancient Roman chariot.  The earliest wheels, however, were much different than 21st century wheels or even those used in first century battles.

The wheel was invented by the ancient Sumerians. They lived in the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers in the Middle East. Much, much later this land became part of the country we call Iraq.  The Sumerians were the first people to develop a written language.  Extensive studies of their writings have led archaeologists and historians to also credit them with the invention of the wheel. Continue reading

KIDS’ BLOG! Boom! Pow! Whizzz!: The History of Fireworks

Displays of fireworks are widely used on festive occasion, as at the opening ceremony of Beijing Olympic Games, 2008.

Displays of fireworks are widely used on festive occasions, as at the opening ceremony of Beijing Olympic Games, 2008.

Fireworks are used by many cultures to celebrate holidays and important events.  Their spectacle unites people and commemorates cultural milestones.  Kaleidoscopic bursts against the night sky, spirals of colored fire, glimmering waterfalls—all the effects that give pounding delight to children and adults alike. Continue reading

KIDS’ BLOG! Ancient Toys, Wii and You

kid tetris

Update! This post was originally published on June 6th, 2013. In many places around the world, school’s out for summer break. For the next few weeks, kids will be turning to toys for entertainment. And when it comes to toys with all the bells and whistles (and high-end graphics, music, etc.), our modern world definitely doesn’t disappoint. In the post below, we take a look back at how ancient kids entertained themselves with toys that aren’t so different from the ones we have today. But first, click here to see a slideshow of some ancient toys from the imperial court of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) in China. These fascinating and even mysterious toys were used by the princes and princesses of the kingdom. Some you might recognize, others you might not. Try to imagine how you would play with these toys today. And don’t miss the brand new activity below!

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We might assume that ancient civilizations spent all their time working very hard—hunting or growing their food, fighting their enemies and just trying to survive.  Instead, archaeologists and historians have discovered that many of these people enjoyed playing as well as working together.

The early Mesopotamians, who lived between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is now modern day Iraq, knew how to enjoy life!  They played sports, developed fun games for both adults and children, and found creative ways to entertain themselves. They even set up their calendar to include six holidays each month, celebrating them with rituals and festivals.  Each new month started when they saw the first sliver of the moon in the sky. They had three lunar festivals (based on the phases of the moon) and an extra three days just for relaxing. Some of their celebrations were annual, like the equinox (when the length of the days and nights were equal) and the solstice (when the sun is the farthest from the equator). Others were religious or anniversaries of military victories, and other special Mesopotamian events.

During these celebrations the king would often participate in a ritual hunt. This type of hunt was more of a show.  He didn’t do much actual hunting. The king was well-protected by his soldiers, and in the end he would always successfully kill the animals to prove that he had favor with the gods, had control over the animals, and was a legitimate king.[1]

Terracotta relief depicting two men boxing to musical accompaniment, c. 1200 B.C.E., Sinkara (modern-day Tell as Senkereh, Iraq). Source: Flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/pankration (Pankration Research Institute's photostream).

Terracotta relief depicting two men boxing to musical
accompaniment, c. 1200 B.C.E., Sinkara (modern-day Tell as Senkereh, Iraq).
Source: Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/pankration (Pankration Research
Institute’s photostream).

The common people also participated in a variety of sports and games during holidays.  Stone carvings, metal art and terra-cotta (red clay) plaques show that boxing and wrestling were especially popular in Mesopotamia. Two men would dramatically beat on an enormous drum during boxing matches, probably to add excitement to the event.[2]  The Mesopotamians also played polo, except that instead of riding on horses, the players sat on the shoulders of other men.[3]  Interestingly, there is evidence that the Mesoamericans—located an ocean away in Central America–were playing polo this same way.

An ancient pull-toy at the Oriental Institute Museum.

An ancient pull-toy at the Oriental Institute Museum.

The children of Mesopotamia were encouraged to play with miniature toys not only for fun, but also to help master adult skills. They played house with dolls and tiny animals and furniture. They had toy chariots, wagons and ships. They were given safe weapons so that they could imitate the adults in hunting and battle. These included bows, arrows, sling shots, long sticks for throwing and even boomerangs. They also had action games and toys like spinning tops, rattles, jump ropes, balls and a game almost like hockey, except that players used mallets and a puck.[4]

Many of today’s toys are similar, but now both children and adults can enjoy very realistic play anytime.  We don’t have to wait for a holiday or festival like the Mesopotamians did to play sports or relax.  With the invention of video gaming systems like Wii, we can play  after school or in the evening with our families.  Systems like Wii let us go through all the motions of hunting or boxing without the risk of being hurt. The technology allows us to  control the actions of our character on the TV screen by moving our hands and feet with remote gadgets. We can gain skills at sports and martial arts without ever leaving our homes. This is as close to the real thing as pretending could ever be.

Throughout history, people have played games, not only for recreation, but also to learn activities important for life in their society.  Today, Wii turns play into an active imitation of life for children and adults alike.  Just as the Mesopotamians did in their day with their leisure activities, we in the 21st century also take our fun seriously.

Activities

Mesopotamia Art Project:  Compare a Mesopotamian father in battle and his children playing war with their toys.

  1. Click here for pictures of Ancient Mesopotamian weapons.
  2. Measure and mark a point halfway down a piece of art paper and draw a horizontal line across to the other side.  You are going to make two pictures about a Mesopotamian family.  Go to the above link for pictures of ancient Mesopotamian weapons. Use the pictures to help you draw accurate pictures of the weapons.
  3. In the top space, draw a Mesopotamian warrior in battle using his weapon (sword or spear).  In the bottom space, draw his two children at home playing with their toy weapons (wooden swords, throwing sticks or other toy weapons mentioned in the blog).  You can add other miniature toys from the story like toy chariots, wagons and ships to the picture.
  4. Label your picture with the words, “A Mesopotamian Father at War” and “Mesopotamian Children Playing Warrior.”

Qing Dynasty Building Blocks: Just like todays’ teachers, educators in the Qing Dynasty knew that building blocks were great toys to help expand growing minds, foster intelligence and have creative fun. You can make your very own building blocks with tools around the house, but make sure you ask your parents to help!

  1. Collect empty boxes. You’ll probably find most of the boxes in the kitchen. Cereal and food boxes are perfect.
  2. Wrap the boxes in plain wrapping paper or construction paper. Reinforce the corners with clear tape. You might want to let your parents do this step.
  3. Use colored markers, pens and pencils to decorate the boxes. You can draw windows and doors and make your own houses and buildings, or draw multiple houses and buildings on each box and create neighborhoods. Leave the boxes plain and use them to build anything you can imagine! Be really creative and go 3D: cut out windows and doors, paste on pictures of greenery from magazines, draw and cut out figures of people, etc.
  4. Write a page as if from your own diary and describe a day living in your neighborhood. Who are you? What period of time do you live in (e.g., ancient China, modern day city)? Who are your friends? What do you like to do together? What do you see when you walk around your neighborhood?

References

1. Bancroft, Norman, Living in Ancient Mesopotamia, (Infobase Publishing, 2008), 176.

2. Murray, Steven Ross, “Boxing Gloves of the Ancient World”, Journal of Combative Sport, July 2010, http://ejmas.com/jcs/2010jcs/jcsart_murray_1007.html

3. Nejat, Karen Rhea Nemet, Daily life in ancient Mesopotamia (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998), 165.

4. Nejat, 166.