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Science and Technology

Among the early Medieval civilizations, the Maya are remembered for being advanced mathematicians and astronomers. They developed the most complex writing system of Mesoamerica, with ideographic and pictographic symobls, as well as systems for coordinating astronomical events with territorial history. Their detailed writings revealed precise mathematical notations as well as use of the concept of zero. The Incas of the fifteenth century continued this tradition of innovation, practicing sophisticated medicine, including brain surgery. The Incas skillfully constructed bridges, tunnels, aqueducts, terraces and buildings. They were also advanced metallurgists, lining the Temples of the Sun and Moon at Cuzco with gold and silver.

The Chinese also brought a number of technological developments during this era. In 868, the first book was printed using the woodblock technique. Paper, invented during the Han period, was improved under the T'ang Dynasty. Other innovations were the wheelbarrow and gunpowder for fireworks. During the later Ming Dynasty, the Chinese built the Imperial City, inspired by achievements of T'ang design. Within those walls, the Chinese construted a complex and magnificent palace known as the Forbidden City. Under Ming rule, scholarship flourished, an enormous encyclopedia of over 11,000 volumes was compiled during this time.

It is interesting to note that during the Medieval era, most of the best scientists and physicians were not from Europe, but rather from the Islamic Empire to the south and east. The Crusades sent many Europeans to live in West Asia for a while, and helped to spread Islamic science to Europe. Other scientific knowledge came from Islamic Spain to France. Together with Islamic scientists, medieval Europeans learned much about plants, and also astronomy. On the other hand, Europeans learned about the compass from the Chinese through the Mongol Empire around 1200, and then passed that knowledge on to the Arabs. Europeans seem to have been more independent and original when it came to engineering. They invented new tools for farmers. During the early Medieval period, the horseshoe was invented, and also a new kind of horse harness that worked better than what the Romans had. People began to use the harrow to turn over plowed earth, and the pitchfork. Chimneys were also invented in Europe in the Middle Ages. And once they had learned about gunpowder, a Chinese invention which reached Europe through the Mongol Empire, Europeans led the way in the invention of cannons, which seem to have first been used around 1320.

One important kind of medieval science was alchemy, the predecessor to modern chemistry. Alchemists tried to find ways to help people live forever, and they were especially interested in turning lead into gold (so they could become rich). The word "alchemy" comes from the Arabic word for "the chemistry", originally from a Greek word meaning "fluids". Logic was also an important part of medieval science, mainly through the Catholic Church. Men like Peter Abelard and Thomas Aquinas were interested in using logic to prove the existence of God. In mathematics, the Middle Ages saw the introduction of what we call Arabic numbers (0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9) from West Asia to Europe. This way of writing numbers seems to come originally from India.

The loosely structured Holy Roman Empire facilitated the emergence of semi-independent princes who helped to pioneer a movement of scholasticism. The growing interest in intellectual activity, spurred by individuals such as Anselm of Cantebury and Abelard of Paris, contributed to the development of universities, through which students could learn grammar, logic, rhetoric, medicine, and theology. Professors also taught Aristotle and Socrates' methods of argument in European universities, just getting started in the 12th century.