The sun has been an eminent staple of our lives since the day each of us was born. This planet has thrived under its rays since the dawn of time. And we’re not the first ones to notice the magnitude of the sun’s power. While there are so many cool solar innovations to look forward to, people were using solar energy in ancient times. It’s true — the reliance we have on pollution-heavy fossil fuels for the generation of energy is the newer concept.
As you might’ve learned from our previous learning series, the use of solar power began long before the sleek, stylish solar panels of today. In fact, people from all over the globe have been admiring, as well as utilizing solar energy for centuries.
From pyramids to magnifying glasses, let’s take a look at some of the ways people used solar energy in ancient times.
Ancient Ruins with Solar in Mind
From the Aztecs in the Americas to the Greeks in Europe, the sun has always been a subject of inspiration. That bright star we see in the sky everyday has had nearly every early culture in human history erect structures in its honor.
In Norse mythology, there was Sol, the sun goddess who rode in a chariot that pulled the sun. For the Aztecs, there was Huitzilopochtli, the sun god who had countless shrines built in his honor. There was Ra, the sun god who created everything as a supreme deity in ancient Egyptian society, but that’s just to name a few. There were many deities, gods and goddesses who emulated and personified the sun’s importance to ancient civilizations all across the globe. The sun was instrumental in these various ancient societies. In an effort to pay homage to what would one day become one of the massive energy sources that the earth has to offer, the people looked to the sky and they built.
Mega Sunlight for the Megaliths
One of the ways we can connect to the peoples of the past is by studying their structures. Megaliths are oversized stones (literally “mega,” meaning big and “lith,” meaning stone) were used for constructing prehistoric monuments, sanctuaries, and even burials during the Neolithic Age (about 5000 B.C.E. to 2000 B.C.E.).
There are numerous megaliths all over the world, but here’s a few of the well-known ones:
The Stonehenge in England
You’ve probably already heard about, or even ventured out to see this megalith, but we’d be remiss not to include the infamous Stonehenge. A big hit for tourists in the United Kingdom, the Stonehenge was arranged for optimal viewing of the sun. This makes it the perfect location to enjoy the summer and winter solstices. While there are many theories about why and how the popular Stonehenge was built (aliens?), it’s clear that ancient peoples knew that the sun was important enough to feature.
The Dolmens in Israel
The dolmens located in Golan and Hula Valley serve as burial chambers scattered in concentrations in the area. While these stones are found all over, it was discovered in recent years that artwork had been carved into the panels. Dolmens are characterized by two vertical megalithic stones with one laying horizontally across them. They were thought to be centers for spiritual power and face the rising sun.
The Newgrange in Ireland
Newgrange is a massive mound. Its circular shape was constructed over 5000 years ago in 3200 B.C.E. This burial tomb utilizes the sun to honor those who were lost and served as a temple. When Newgrange was built, its position in relation to the sun was important. During the winter solstice, light can seep into the main burial chamber once a year and reveal the art inside.
The Pyramids Reach for the Sky
Pyramid and temple-building was a means for ancient populace to pay homage to their deities and display the significance of the sun. Ancient peoples often monitored the sun’s movement to decide the placement, as well as inspired the design of their buildings and monuments.
For instance, there’s the stair-stepper, Temple of Kukulkan. This beauty is located in El Castillo, Mexico. Archaeologists believe this temple was built to worship the deity, Kukulkan, the serpent god. Clearly, the ancient Mayan civilization was enamored with the sun in its construction. During the fall and spring equinoxes, the sun and the temple create a shadow that looks like a serpent.
The Karnak Temple in Egypt is another magnificent wonder that was believed to be a place of worship and observation. The pyramid’s placement and alignment of columns cause for the illumination of the statue of Ra during the winter solstice.
Ancient civilizations also found a way to use solar as an energy source. Let’s take a look at how they used solar energy in ancient times.
Practical Uses for Solar Energy in Ancient Times
It wasn’t long before ancient civilizations noticed the benefits of solar energy for themselves. While they might’ve dabbled in the metaphysical, implementing the sun into their cultural and religious institutions, it wasn’t long before people of the past found a way to use solar for power.
The sun is a massive presence with plenty of energy to go around. Now that we’ve checked out a few ancient solar ruins, let’s discuss the many ways solar has been an ancient power source.
Home Building with Passive Solar
Thinking about getting yourself a smart home? You’re not the only on. Ancient peoples had energy efficiency on the brain too. The infamous Greek philosopher, Socrates, committed to building a whole city around solar energy. He believed if structures were built a certain way, they’d have access to passive solar. This way of structuring and positioning can keep the home cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The Greeks weren’t the only civilization to learn the benefits of passive solar energy.
Bathhouses Keep It Hot
Solar heating made Roman bathhouses a hit! Through a process called hypocaust, hot air circulated in a hollow space beneath the floors. The bathhouses had raised floors and hollow wall panels to mix hot air with hot water and create a steamy environment. The Romans also created solar greenhouses, where coverings were used to trap heat and keep the inside environment perfect for maturing produce.
Thermal Mass Traps in the Heat
Many ancient civilizations learned to use thermal mass to trap in the sun’s heat. Ancient Egyptian civilizations were among the first to utilize solar energy to keep their homes warm as well. Ancient Egyptians built their homes to be able to store solar energy during the day and release it during the night. This successfully kept their homes cool when the sun was highest in the sky and warmer on cooler nights.
Solar Tools of Ancient Times
Ancient civilizations weren’t just using solar to moderate temperature, they also found other practical ways to bring the sun into their daily lives. Here’s a few nifty tools and inventions you may or may not have heard of:
- Solar Cells – Ancient Egyptians used obsidian with traces of boron for many different aesthetic and functional purposes. They combined with copper wire to create makeshift solar cells.
- Hot Water – Ancient Egyptians used pools lined with black tiles to collect heat during the day. An advanced drainage system ran this hot water through pipes to provide heated water during the night.
- Burning Glass – Many might’ve heard the legend about how Archimedes, Greek mathematician and inventor, used the power of the sun as a weapon. While it’s unclear if this story actually happened, there were large convex lenses that could concentrate the sun’s rays and…burn.
Solar: From Ancient Egypt to Your Home
Hopefully, it was no surprise that there was solar energy in ancient times. Ancient civilizations have learned to look up to the sky to power the society around them. There’s commonality between the big megalith rocks, ancient magnifying glasses, and the solar panels you’ve been thinking about getting on your home.
Since the dawn of time, human beings have explored the ways that solar can create clean, abundant energy for all. And we’re still investigating the bigger and better ways to use energy from the sun.
For more information, contact a Solar Energy Specialist today, and get on board with solar.