Ancient Chinese Earthquake detector - Zhang (‘Chang’) Heng

The incredible earthquake detector invented nearly 2,000 years ago

(Read the article on one page)

Although we still cannot accurately predict earthquakes, we have come a long way in detecting, recording, and measuring seismic shocks. Many don’t realise that this process began nearly 2000 years ago, with the invention of the first seismoscope in 132 AD by a Chinese inventor called Zhang (‘Chang’) Heng.  The device was remarkably accurate in detecting earthquakes from afar, and did not rely on shaking or movement in the location where the device was situated.

The ancient Chinese did not understand that earthquakes were caused by the shifting of tectonic plates in the Earth's crust; instead, the people explained them as disturbances with cosmic yin and yang, along with the heavens' displeasure with acts committed (or the common peoples' grievances ignored) by the current ruling dynasty.  Considering the ancient Chinese believed seismic events were important signs from heaven, it was important for the Chinese leaders to be alerted to earthquakes occurring anywhere in their kingdom.

Zhang Cheng was an astronomer, mathematician, engineer, geographer and inventor, who lived during the Han Dynasty (25 – 220 AD).  He is credited with developing the world’s first earthquake detector.  Zhang's seismoscope was a giant bronze vessel, resembling a samovar almost 6 feet in diameter. Eight dragons snaked face-down along the outside of the barrel, marking the primary compass directions. In each dragon's mouth was a small bronze ball. Beneath the dragons sat eight bronze toads, with their broad mouths gaping to receive the balls.

The exact mechanism that caused a ball to drop in the event of an earthquake is still unknown. One theory is that a thin stick was set loosely down the centre of the barrel. An earthquake would cause the stick to topple over in the direction of the seismic shock, triggering one of the dragons to open its mouth and release the bronze ball. The sound of the ball striking one of the eight toads would alert observers to the earthquake and would give a rough indication of the earthquake's direction of origin. 

In 138 AD, the sound of the bronze ball dropping caused a stir among all the imperial officials in the palace. No one believed that the invention actually worked. According to the direction in which the dragon that dropped the ball was oriented, it was determined that the quake had occurred to the west of Luoyang, the capital city. Since no one had sensed anything in Luoyang proper, people were sceptical.  However, a few days later, a messenger from the western Long region (today, southwest Gansu province), which was west of Luoyang, reported that there had been an earthquake there. As it happened exactly the same time that the seismometer was triggered, people were greatly impressed by Zhang Heng’s instrument.

In 2005, scientists in Zengzhou, China (which was also Zhang's hometown) managed to replicate Zhang's seismoscope and used it to detect simulated earthquakes based on waves from four different real-life earthquakes in China and Vietnam. The seismoscope detected all of them. As a matter of fact, the data gathered from the tests corresponded accurately with that gathered by modern-day seismometers!

Today, from an advanced modern science and technology point of view, the seismometer Zhang Heng invented is still considered amazingly refined and remarkable and way ahead of its time.

Featured image: A replica of Zhang Heng’s seismoscope. Photo credit: Marilyn Shea

By April Holloway

References

Zhang Heng: Great Chinese Inventor – Epoch Times

Zhang Heng and the World's First Seismometer – History Innovations

Ancient Chinese Seismometer

Zhang Heng

Comments

interesting...and people say that ancient cultures were not as advanced as today! Same technololgy, different machines. I am not smart enought to know the science or math behind this but it seems oddly simple enough.

Amazing how this Chinese iventor  thought to make it and the desing is incredible.

Great.In the current earthquake event in China,shame this wasn't used.

Shame it wasn't used before the recent earthquake in China.

It doesn't predict earthquakes, it reports distant ones that may not be felt locally, and for all, it gives the direction of the quake.

you must be a fool to believe it works.

1)china did not invent paper, gun powder,printing, compass.

Professor Joseph Needham proved china invented paper, gun powder,printing, compass.
Needham has been criticized for his strong inclination to exaggerate Chinese technological
achievements.

2) Example compass.
The compass was invented in italy.

The pointer of the ancient chinese compass is as big as a spoon.
The spoon is put on the top of a plate, and there is nothing else.
Compass - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (china, Sinan)

The ancient chinese compass was a junk. It could not work.

Yes, the earliest "Compass" Si Nan is not a real compass, and it does not work like a compass. It is the device used to measure the "Big Dipper". However, there is proof that Chinese invented paper, gunpowder, and printing. Even though people from other countries improved printing, but still the earliest paper record's printing is from China.

this is so awesome

this is so awesome

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Related Ancient Origins Articles

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article