Ancient Impossible (2014) s01e04 Episode Script

Warrior Tech

Narrator: How did the Chinese build a devastating automatic weapon 2,000 years before machine guns? Firepower matters.
Narrator: What are the secrets behind the ancient world's high-tech body armor, made thousands of years before bulletproof vests? This was space-age stuff.
This was how you wanted to go to war.
Narrator: And why is this simple invention the godfather of the world's most ruthless weapons- landmines? Monuments more colossal than our own, ancient super weapons as mighty as today's, technology so precise it defies reinvention.
The ancient world was not primitive.
Their marvels are so advanced, we still use them now.
Travel to a world closer than we imagine, an ancient age where nothing was impossible.
Over 2,000 years ago, the Chinese created a weapon so devastating, it turned untrained troops into ancient machine gunners.
Is it possible that they developed the first rapid-fire weapon in history? To fully understand the power of this ancient weapon, you must start by examining one of today's most devastating firearms- the AK-47.
Like its predecessor, this gun is easy to use, easy to produce, and can quickly turn raw recruits into killing machines.
Automatic weapons are crucial to the success of any army or navy because the more rounds you can put down target onto the battlefield in a minimum amount of time, the more effective you are.
Narrator: What was this amazing super weapon? There's a clue in China, at the greatest archaeological discovery of our time The mausoleum of China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang.
The terracotta army is a clay army that was buried in the mausoleum for the first Qin emperor, to guard him in the afterlife, and it is astonishing.
Every face of every man in that thousands-of-men army is different, is individual, and every man was armed with state- of-the-art weapons of the day.
Narrator: But over the centuries, their weapons have rotted away.
Their hands are empty.
Could they once have held the world's first repeating weapon? And could this warrior tech have created a killing zone that seems impossible on an ancient battlefield? An essential element of all land warfare is firepower, whether it's the big long-range guns on today's tanks or whether it's the AK-47, firepower matters.
And 2,300 years ago in China, it mattered there, too.
And they invented this - the Chinese repeating crossbow, the chu ko nu.
Narrator: The genius of this amazing weapon is its simplicity.
There are just 4 major parts- wooden stock Bamboo bow Wooden magazine And the lever.
This magazine holds 8 crossbow bolts to complete such an astonishing weapon.
As you push this lever forward, the string catches in a notch.
As you push the lever up, it reveals this little pin here, and that is the whole deal, that little peg there.
You pull the lever back, you're pulling the string bacac the magazine comes down onto the stock.
It's that peg that pushes the string out of the notch, and the whole cyclic starts over again.
It's a constantly cycling, repeating, wonderful, efficient weapon.
Narrator: This revolution made technology, not training, the dominant force on the battlefield.
Such an impossibly sophisticated weapon turned peasants into soldiers almost overnight, much like the AK-47 does now.
It gives the rate of fire that a trained archer can put out, but without all the hardship of learning to do it.
Narrator: Archers were professional soldiers who had to be trained from childhood.
The best could shoot about 10 arrows a minute.
But could raw troops be as effective as this on the battlefield? Looking at a Chinese regiment of 1,000 soldiers shooting six bolts in a minute, you've got 6,000 arrows flying towards the enemy.
Narrator: This incredible weapon turned close formations of elite enemy troops into crossbow fodder.
It's impossible to believe, but the ancient Chinese had a lever- action firearm that predates anything in our modern world.
But there is a curious connection between this weapon and one of the most iconic weapons of the American west, a connection that could help us understand how advanced this ancient weapon truly was.
There's an obvious parallel between the lever action of the Chinese repeating crossbow and the lever action of the Winchester 73 repeating rifle.
I wonder which repeats more quickly.
Narrator: Is it possible to compare these two weapons? We are going to try by pitting them against each other in a shoot-off, Texas style, to find the top gun.
Kirsten Weiss is an American national champion and performance shooter.
I love the Winchester.
It's one of my favorite guns.
I mean, they're such fun, aren't they? Yeah, isn't it the best? That lever action.
Do you dare take on old technology? With new? Yes, I dare, let's do it.
Let's do it.
Narrator: Can this weapon from 2,300 years ago really match the rate of fire of a Winchester 73? They've got five shots each.
Which will have the quickest rate of fire? Okay, so this is just on speed.
Okay.
And I've got the older weapon.
So I get to give the countdown.
3, 2, 1! Done! I don't believe it.
You got to hand it to the Chinese.
Absolutely! Isn't that extraordinary? Fantastic.
Narrator: This game-changing ancient repeating crossbow has matched one of the greatest repeating rifles of all time, an incredible feat.
They have got something which in its repeating function is at least a match.
Yes.
I mean, you would think such a thing impossible.
Yes! Thank you, good job.
Thank you, Mike.
Good job.
Narrator: The Chinese repeating crossbow would have been an awesome weapon in the hands of conscripted peasants or tough professional soldiers.
But despite this firepower, the Chinese troops did have one serious limitation.
The heavy body armor worn by the warriors of the emperor Qin would have affected their mobility and stamina.
The Chinese warriors would have struggled in their heavy metal armor, but would you believe in ancient Greece, they actually already had lightweight armor that predates kevlar by over 2,000 years? Narrator: The Chinese developed a devastating repeating weapon that predated the machine gun by over 2,000 years.
But while they had the firepower, they were hampered by their heavy metal armor.
About the same time, a revolution in body protection was taking place half a world away in Greece, an armor so impossibly light and strong, you'd think it came from today.
To understand how effective this ancient armor was, we need to look at today's tech.
Modern day body armor didn't come about until world war I, but it was metal and heavy in order to be bulletproof.
Then in the late 1960s, kevlar was invented.
Narrator: Dupont kevlar is a super-tough synthetic material layered to make lightweight body armor.
It spreads and reduces the force of an incoming projectile, and the tough kevlar fibers are extremely hard to break.
This is a 20th-century technology, right? Wrong.
This is linothorax, or Greek kevlar.
This is Alexander the great's battle gear of choice when he began his conquests in the 4th century bc.
Narrator: Alexander the Great led Macedonian warriors in their conquest of Greece, the Persian empire, Afghanistan, and even reached as far as India.
He was feared throughout the ancient world and believed to be invincible.
But he had a secret weapon.
We know from ancient sources that he wore a breastplate of folded linen, 12 layers all woven together and then glued to form this lightweight armor.
Narrator: Linen is a super- tough natural material.
It can be layered to make lightweight body armor.
In many ways, it acts just like dupont kevlar by spreading and reducing the force of projectiles.
The kevlar fibers of the material are extremely strong.
But could this simple cloth be constructed to withstand extreme impact? The evidence for the linothorax is principally artistic.
We see it regularly on Greek vases and pottery.
And we get written accounts explaining that it was made of cloth.
However, the breakthrough is with Alexander's father, Philip.
Philip in his tomb has a thorax in exactly this same style, and from that, we can work out the form and extrapolate this reconstruction based on all the archaeological sources.
Narrator: Reconstruction expert rorie brophy is re-creating this ultimate body armor from modern linen.
I'm making linothorax armor.
It's a type of armor preferred by the ancient greeks.
It's made from linen and glue.
It was used by Alexander the great when he conquered most of the known world.
A very simple material to make, in principle.
It's just layers of linen with glue in between it, pressed really, really well together.
Linen is a remarkable material.
It's incredibly strong, probably the strongest natural fiber you can get.
Narrator: It seems impossible that fabric armor could protect a soldier in battle.
Modern-day dupont kevlar will stop a bullet.
But will rorie's Greek kevlar withstand one of the deadliest weapons of the ancient world? Today hunter Ellis is armed with the mighty longbow to test this linen wonder armor.
This willow-leaf arrowhead will be shot at 120 Miles per hour about the same impact Alexander's armies would have faced.
It's make or break time for Greek kevlar.
Can an arrow really be defeated by fabric? Dead-center gut shot, but the big question is right now-did it penetrate? Let's go find out.
You can see it sticking out of the armor right here, but would it have mortally wounded this warrior? (Chuckles) You know what? It's only sticking out about a half-inch on the inside.
So this Greek kevlar did what it's supposed to do.
It absorbed the impact of this arrow.
This warrior would have lived to fight another day.
Narrator: This incredible ancient body armor could have made the difference between living and dying on the battlefield.
Alexander the great learned this firsthand when the armor was put to the test at the siege of Gaza.
In the heat of battle at one point soaring out from the enemy lines came a ballista bolt.
It hit his shield, it went through the shield, penetrated the shield and into his armor, his linthorax.
Luckily this armor is so good, it managed to take most of the force from the bolt, and it only lightly wounded him.
Narrator: The ancient armor turned a killing wound into a flesh wound.
For the ordinary foot soldier this was, you know, space-age stuff.
This was how you wanted to go to war.
They were wearing the kevlar of their period.
Narrator: Whether it is the ancient or the modern world, the military has always sought to develop ways to protect a soldier's entire body, from head to toe.
Just think of some of the innovations we have today.
U.
S.
special forces are developing lightweight protective body armor, full-body armor for their operators.
But did you know the Romans had it nearly 2,000 years ago? Narrator: Today's armies don't realize that many of the advances they are working on were actually first developed in the ancient world.
An example is this demonstration of a highly sophisticated full body armor called talos now under development for U.
S.
Forces.
(Whinnies) The history books lead us to believe that the first true armored warriors were the medieval knights of Europe.
But new evidence shows that in Europe, the Romans were using fully armored knights much earlier.
Hunter Ellis is getting suited up, medieval style.
Right now I'm dressed in a 15th-century harness of arms.
When most people picture full body armor, they think of medieval knights, but in fact warriors had this type of protection about 1,000 years earlier.
Narrator: But proving that Roman warriors had full body armor will take some serious detective work.
( Man shouts in Latin ) Often, Rome's greatest military advances were born out of their military defeats.
In one terrible battle, at carrhae in modern Turkey, the Roman army was changed forever.
In 53 bc, the Romans had a classic infantry army going out into the desert to face the parthians.
The parthians however were cavalry-heavy.
And they had cataphracts.
Narrator: This was the parthians' secret weapon.
Their heavy cavalry, known as cataphracts, were armored.
The Romans were utterly mauled, more than 20,000 dead.
(Crowd shouting) (Horse whinnying, galloping hoofbeats) The Romans were never ones to take defeat lightly.
They went away.
They learned their lessons.
When they came back, they had their own cataphracts.
And this time, the Romans were victorious.
Narrator: The Romans took this technology to the next level, creating the first European knights.
But what did they look like? There's graffiti drawn by a bored Roman soldier at a frontier post on the border of what's now modern day Syria, and this gives us an idea of what these warriors might have looked like.
Narrator: This ancient graffiti could be an incredible eyewitness account.
Is this proof that the knights of Rome really did exist? Well, there are actual accounts from the 4th century from Roman soldiers who served on the battlefield.
These aren't the armchair generals.
And they talked about warriors dressed head to toe in full body armor, glistening on the battlefield like silver statues.
How would you like to run into that? Narrator: One ancient historian has found a clue in Oxford, England.
Dr.
Adrian Goldsworthy is one of the world's leading experts on the Roman armed forces.
Hidden away in the dusty archives of the Bodleian library, Adrian has unearthed evidence that could re-write how we view the Roman army.
The book I've got in front of me here is something quite remarkable.
It's a book written in the 4th century a.
D.
So here you've got a picture of something that you might not expect to see as a soldier of the Roman army-a man fully armored on a fully armored horse.
Narrator: Incredibly, horse armor like this was found in a destroyed Roman fort in the 1930s.
Made of metal scales, it's identical to the illustration in the book.
And there's another clue from an ancient text.
One of the things listed are the titles of all the officers in command of all the army units of the Roman army.
Among these units there are quite a few that are listed as cataphracts.
Narrator: And there's still more evidence that the Romans were using knights.
'Cause if we go on and look here at an illustration of the fabricae, the workshops, the factories that supplied the equipment for the army and look in detail, we can actually see depictions of the heavy armor that these sorts of soldiers would wear.
You've got the main cuirass, heavy strong protected body armor.
Narrator: These lines drawn on the illustration give another clue.
The main body armor is chain mail, an armor made of iron rings.
Mail, which was the mainstay of the Roman army for centuries, came from the celts in the west.
But it produces an armor which is effective, especially in hand to hand combat, against swords and spears.
Here if you look at the illustrations, you can actually see what we've been talking about all the time.
Because in this corner you've got extra defenses for the arms and extra defenses for the limbs.
They had plate defenses, like this reconstruction of a 1st- century manica.
It's made with iron plates which are articulated together to make it flexible.
Narrator: We have found one last clue.
Now also it gives us the insignia on shields, you can see these brightly painted devices, which would have identified each unit in battle.
And it is more than a coincidence that none of the units of cataphracts are given a shield design in this great catalog of the shields of the Roman army.
Narrator: Like medieval knights, this armor was so impossibly powerful, the soldiers didn't use shields.
It was a combination of all these different styles of armor for different purposes, the scale, the mail, the articulated plates, that come together to produce this ancient super troop.
Narrator: We can now reveal the Roman cataphract, the first European knight over 1,000 years earlier than we ever imagined.
(Whinnies) (All shouting) These guys, encased in heavy armor from head to foot for themselves and their horses charging with lances were an ancient superweapon.
Narrator: The one remaining mystery is the warrior's helmet which protected the face and head.
But amazingly, a clue for its appearance could come from Rome's deadliest enemies.
The Roman cataphracts would soon face their greatest enemy, sword-wielding warriors that seem to come from "the game of thrones," but they're as real as I am and 100 times more terrifying.
Narrator: We've rewritten history to prove that the Romans had fully armored knights over 1,000 years before the age of chivalry.
If it weren't for the evidence, the existence of such troops would seem impossible to believe.
But one mystery remains- is it really possible that the Romans had a helmet that covered the full head and face like a medieval knight? The ancient writers tell us that the head and face are covered by a metal mask and that the wearer would look like a glittering statue.
Now these helmets obviously existed, but none survive.
They cover the entire head, similar to the late Roman cavalry helmet.
Narrator: No helmet like this has ever been found, but there might be a lead From Rome's deadliest enemies.
In the 4th century a.
D.
, the wealthy Roman province of Britain faced a terrible threat Barbarian German tribesmen called Saxons Who lived for fighting and plunder.
The Saxons were coming from the sea and raiding rich and fertile Britannia.
The coastline was so inundated with Saxon raids, they even named their forts and garrisons the Saxon shore.
Narrator: The Romans built 10 massive forts to protect Britannia.
But how could they know where the Saxons would strike next? The Romans don't know where they're going to strike.
So they need a flexible, mobile reserve to deal with them.
And the best way to do that is cavalry.
The Romans learned from their experiences in the middle east, that the best form of cavalry against bodies of infantry- the Saxons were infantry- was heavy armored, disciplined, close- formation shock cavalry.
Their answer to Saxon raids was the cataphract.
(Crowd shouting) Imagine being a Saxon and sailing across the sea, landing on the beach and then being greeted by an armored cavalry of cataphracts in iron plate and chain mail.
Even for the mighty Saxons, this would make them think twice.
Narrator: To level the playing field, the Saxons imitated the Roman armor, including their helmet.
At Sutton hoo in eastern England, evidence has been found of what a Roman cataphract helmet might have looked like.
Under this mound, a mighty warrior was buried In the richest Saxon grave ever found.
King raedwald was laid to rest here with his war gear and magnificent helmet.
This reconstruction shows the sophistication of an era some call the dark ages.
This is Britain's tutankhamen.
So a find like Sutton hoo basically gives us a window into a secret world.
This warrior king was buried in his full battle gear.
He had a chainmail shirt, he had a shield, and he had an incredible sword and helmet.
Narrator: Is the Sutton hoo helmet the missing link that shows us what the Roman cataphracts wore? When you see all three helmets together, the similarities are incredible.
You can imagine how the Roman cataphracts would have made a lasting impression on the raiding Saxons.
Here we have the Sutton hoo helmet.
No cataphract helmets exist, but this is a Roman cavalry ceremonial helmet from about 500 years earlier.
Look at the similarities in design and protection of the faceplates and neck plates in the back, which would protect from a rear blow.
And then look at this full frontal face coverage.
But what's unique about the Sutton hoo helmet is this Ridge right down the crest, it's believed that the Roman cataphract helmet had the same feature.
Narrator: With a helmet that matches ancient descriptions, we've re-created a Roman cataphract for the first time ever.
Roman warrior tech created full body armor over 1,000 years before medieval knights.
(Whinnies) But even the knights of Rome could not prevent the empire's decline and fall.
The Roman army was eventually pulled out of Britain to defend Rome.
Britannia was invaded and settled by the Saxons.
(Crowd screaming) The Saxons were also accompanied by the angles, so we have a confederation of German tribes.
It's from the angles that we get the term "England," angleland.
And of course, we therefore have Anglo-Saxons.
Narrator: But the Saxons weren't done yet.
Narrator: Over 2,000 years ago, the Roman army used fully armored knights on the battlefield.
Rome's enemies the Saxons didn't just copy Roman equipment.
They created their own ultimate warrior superweapon.
The Saxons were true warriors.
Most had small swords or sax, much like this one right here.
It's basically a big knife.
But others had the long sax, like this.
This is the replica of the Sutton hoo sword.
This is what a Ferrari or Lamborghini would cost in the Saxon world.
This right here is the ultimate status symbol.
Weapons are the mark of an anglo-Saxon warrior.
And his most important weapon is the sword.
Swords were even considered magical, like Excalibur to king Arthur.
They were named, names like widow's wail- the cry of a wife as her husband is slain- leg biter- a sword that can cut underneath the opponent's shield and take out his ankle- or even needle to pierce through to the heart.
Narrator: These lethal swords were made to impossibly high specifications worthy of 21st-century technology.
Under this mound, the greatest Saxon sword in history was discovered (Shouts in foreign language) Narrator: In the grave of king Raedwald at Sutton hoo in England.
The sword and treasure are now held in the British museum in London.
The reconstruction next to the remains of the original shows the might and power it once had.
Now a sword like this would generally be buried with its owner, but it's still incredibly rare to find them in the ground and absolutely unique to have an example as superb as this.
This is a sword where no expense has been spared.
The handle is made of gold, and on the pommel, there's gold filigree, and garnets have been inlaid.
So this is a symbol of your power, of your status, and it's no coincidence that these are being used because they were thought to have almost magical powers and to be able to ward off the evil of lightning and thunder.
Narrator: But this sword was not just for show.
Its construction reveals impossibly sophisticated techniques that made it the ultimate war blade.
There's a story behind these patterns.
They're not just for decoration.
The patterns show us the extent of the highly sophisticated technology that was used to create this absolutely incredible ancient weapon.
Narrator: The Saxon super sword was the first effective use of composite metal in the world.
But how did they do it? This incredible technique of pattern welding is still used in modern knife blades And by swordsmith Stuart makin to recreate the tip of the Sutton hoo sword.
So what I've got here is a billet of different types of steel.
The four darker layers are mild steel, which is a soft metal.
The three other layers are high carbon steel.
And what we're going to do is use the fire to melt these together and make one piece which combines the hardness of the carbon steel and the softness of the mild steel.
Narrator: This incredible ancient technology mixes hard steel for cutting with soft steel for strength.
A sword made only of soft metal will bend.
A sword made solely of hard metal will shatter.
This deadly weapon had a supernatural strength that made it supposedly unbreakable in combat.
These are exquisite works of art.
They're extraordinary pieces of technology, but also, this is the weapon that is gonna save your life.
Narrator: The hard and soft steel are combined into billets.
The billets are hammered into bars to start creating the pattern.
By twisting those metals together, when we do the final stage, you'll see that twist in the surface of the material.
Narrator: Once four twisted billets are made, they are then joined to make the body of the sword.
And I'm actually forging the blade tip of the sword here.
Narrator: But that's not the end to the impossibly high sophistication of this ultimate weapon.
I've got a couple of pieces of high carbon steel.
Now on their own, they'd be too brittle to make a sword.
However, we're gonna weld these either side of the core to make the cutting edge.
So when the sword is ground and polished, it maintains its razor edge.
Narrator: All that needs to be done now is to use acid to reveal the pattern that shows the mix of soft and hard steel that gives the blade its impossible strength and cutting power.
All of these processes combined to produce this entire beautiful, yet functional stunning piece of work.
It's absolutely phenomenal.
What's almost impossible to imagine is that smiths over 1,000 years ago were able to produce an object of such beauty and with such sophisticated technology.
We've seen highly sophisticated ancient battle equipment that's thousands of years ahead of its time, but it was one incredibly simple invention by the ancient greeks and the Romans that sets the stage for some of the most terrifying and ruthless weapons of modern warfare.
Narrator: Look at modern warfare and you see incredible parallels with the ancient world.
It seems impossible, but one tiny invention going back over 3,000 years is the godfather of some of today's cruelest weapons.
We're in the moat at southsea castle.
Moats are familiar to most people- a trench or a ditch around the castle or fort usually dry, sometimes containing water.
It denies the ground to the enemy.
That's harder in an open battlefield.
You need a way to stop the enemy coming forward against you.
And that's where these come in.
These are caltrops.
Narrator: Named after the Latin word "calcitrapa" or "foot trap," caltrops are incredibly simple and effective.
Tread on one of these, and it's game over.
The caltrop, it's a 4-pronged Barb designed that no matter how you throw it, 3 prongs are on the ground and 1 prong sticks straight up into the air.
This is an area-denial weapon.
It's easy to make, it's simple to deploy, and it can be carried anywhere.
As the enemy comes forward, strikes these, starts to take casualties, they stop.
Narrator: This impossibly simple idea is as effective as modern area-denial weapons, but what seems even more impossible is that it revolutionized defensive warfare.
These are easy to make.
To an ancient, all he needs to do is take two pieces of bar stock, shape it, weld it together, bend it.
And it's also the work of just moments, a few minutes' work to make one.
In many ways, these should be seen as the ancestors of modern area-denial weapons, whether you're looking at razor wire and barbed wire or more modern weapons such as mines, cluster bombs and scatter bomblets.
But these, these were 3,000 years ago.
Nasty little suckers.
Narrator: Over time, swords, crossbows, and metal armor have disappeared from our arsenals.
But caltrops have hardly changed.
And believe it or not, U.
S.
Forces in Afghanistan are still using versions of the caltrop to this day.
Narrator: These tiny wonder weapons were the ultimate warrior tech.
With caltrops on hard ground, ancient soldiers could gain an edge against any threat, even the most intimidating of all- the elephant whether it's Hannibal and the carthaginians, the persians, or even the Indians, elephants were a terror weapon.
They were huge beasts covered in armor that can sweep through your lines.
Caltrops are the perfect answer.
Elephants are intelligent, they're very thick skinned, but underfoot, they're very sensitive.
Now imagine a bed of these being thrown down as a wave of attacking elephants come towards you.
( Elephant roars ) Wounded elephants will flee, naturally, the quickest route possible, which is normally directly behind them, through the troops, which causes utter carnage amongst the ranks.
Elephants are definitely a double-edged weapon.
Narrator: Cunning use of this ingenious yet simple weapon did more than just stop the enemy.
But what most enemies do is they try and circumvent the obstacle.
That's why clever placement means the enemy will be driven to where you want them- driven into choke points that you can then smash.
You can deliver your heavy cavalry, your best elite troops and eliminate the enemy totally.
Simple little device but one that's fundamental to an entire tactical plan on the battlefield.
This is all the hallmarks of modern warfare, but they were doing this 3,000 years ago.
Yeah.
Cracking piece of kit.
Narrator: Warriors of the ancient world had highly sophisticated weapons thousands of years ahead of their time, from the first automatic weapons to full body armor and the first area-denial weapons, proving that the ancients were able to achieve the impossible, creating warrior tech we can still see in use today.