Earliest Compound Machine

Distinctive spiral grooves carved on ritual jade rings buried in tombs dating from China’s Spring and Autumn period (771–475 BC) follow a precise mathematical form described by the spiral of Archimedes, 300 years before he lived. I show how precisely drafting these spirals required a precision compound machine in 550 BC, preceding all other machines known to interconvert exactly linear and rotational motion by half a millennium. I also propose a basic mechanical design relying only upon technologies known to have existed at that time.



  1. Peter J. Lu, “Early Precision Compound Machine from Ancient China” Science. 304, 1638 (2004). [pdf] [Supp. Info]

Print Media Coverage

  1. “2500 Jahre alte Maschine aus China” Abenteuer Archaologie [Germany] (2004).
  2. “Anello cinese rivoluziona la storia della tecnologia” Corriere Della Sera [Italy] (2004).
  3. “Ancient Chinese technical tango” Harvard Gazette (2004).
  4. “Spirales chinoises” La Recherche [France] (2004).
  5. “Complex machine carved ancient rings” Nature (2004).
  6. “Spiral ring reveals ancient complex machines” New Scientist (2004).
  7. “First Compound Machine Found In China” Popular Mechanics (2004).
  8. “Uralte Feinmechanik” Bild der Wissenschaft [Germany] (2004).