Within the group "Global Perspectives of Knowledge" a comprehensive representation of technological innovations in the ancient world is being developed. To this end, the first appearances of important innovations over broad geographical areas are recorded. Whereas rich collections of data already exist for some innovations—such as the use of copper and gold, or such pottery techniques as the wheel and furnace—and can be appropriated, other innovations, for example balances and weights or the use of silver, are much less documented and as a consequence various sources are scrutinized to obtain the required data. Based on the latest state of research, archeological, iconographical, and (where applicable) literary evidence has been collected and enhanced for the following key technologies: wheel and wagon, plow, silver and lead extraction, halberds, copper alloys, balances, glass, flint daggers, swords, and domesticated donkeys. The research focus lies in the key technologies of the fourth millennium. Innovations of the third millennium, namely glass production and weighing technology, are now also being studied. The collected data will become publicly available online in 2017 as part of The Digital Atlas of Innovations.
In view of the many unconnected collections of data about archaeological finds relevant for a global history of knowledge, an online tool integrating and providing open access to a large range of data and supporting new types of research has been developed (The Atlas of Innovations). The open source tool PlaTiN dynamically represents and comprehensively analyzes the spread of innovations, and reconstructs the relations among them. Based on PlaTiN and the data collected by the project, questions are being addressed which include where, when, and why some innovations prevail, which regions do not adopt any developments, or only belatedly, and where innovations, after an initial phase, disappear again. As a result, a comprehensive view of the development of technology in the ancient world is being made available for the first time. Based on this approach, the innovation process governing the deployment of the technical exploration of animal traction and the wheel has been investigated and the results published as “Transforming Technical Know-how in Time and Space: Using the Digital Atlas of Innovations to Understand the Innovation Process of Animal Traction and the Wheel” (eTopoi Vol. 6, 2017). This paper argues that the diffusion of wheeled vehicles is the result of the local transformation of several technical components that were known since the Pottery Neolithic period. Experimentation with the use of animal traction starts as early as the late sixth millennium. However, it was the significantly better connected networks established during the early fourth millennium that enabled the innovation-diffusion of the wheel from the Black Sea to the Baltic areas.
The theme of innovation has already been discussed in three conferences and the publication of the proceedings of all three is underway: Technical Innovations in Prehistory; Prehistoric Networks in the longue durée: Palaeolithic Innovations enabling the Neolithic Revolution; and Innovations in the Technologies of Ancient Glass.