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 Heng: Ancient Inventor
Zhang Heng was an astronomer, mathematician, engineer, geographer and inventor, who lived during the Han Dynasty (25 – 220 AD). He was renowned for inventing the world’s first water-powered armillary sphere for astronomical observation, improved the water clock, and documented about 2,500 stars in a detaile star catalogue. He is also widely believed to have invented the first odometer.