History, Science, Technology:Ancient Engineering
Ingenious achievements of the ancients

The Chinese South Pointing Chariot

Do you know how a differential works? Would you believe that the Chinese invented one nearly three thousand years ago, and used it as a non-magnetic compass to keep track of north and south as they traveled?

The figure on top of this amazing machine maintains its orientation no matter which way the chariot is pulled, pushed, turned or even how fast. How it does this is via a clever application of gears and mathematical ratios that would have earned the awe and admiration of Pythagoras, Euclid and Aristotle themselves.

It took us exactly eight prototypes to get the gearing worked out properly -- a fortuitous number, since eight is also the luckiest number in Chinese traditions.

This model is a 1/10 scale reproduction of the South Pointing Chariot. The completed kit stands 14 inches tall, 14 inches long and 7 inches wide. It contains over 37 precision cut hardwood pieces (not including the gear teeth), and when properly constructed, it really works!

Examples of the South Pointing Chariot can be found in fine museums all over the world, and now you can have your own museum quality model for your personal display of ancient technology.

Also available in a
low-cost easy-assembly version! (click for info)

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    Price: $79.00
    Minimum age: 10
    Availability: out of stock

    Item code: 14201

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Video courtesy of
Terry McIntyre

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Interesting Notes

The Roman Onager was the main artillery device of the Roman army. It was named after the Asian Wild Ass because they both have a tendancy to "kick" when they go off.

Oftentimes, an Onager would be fitted with a sling on the end of the arm instead of a cup or bucket. The sling will give greater range to a heavier projectile, but can only hurl one rock at a time. The bucket could be filled with lots of rocks at once - an effective anti-personnel device.

The kinds of things the Romans hurled includes heavy rocks and clay pots filled with pitch and tar- on fire.

Onagers are sometimes called a "Mangonel", but Mangonel literally translates as "War Machine" - a category that also includes ballistae and trebuchets.

The Onagers were used from early Roman times right up to the medieval period alongside the trebuchets. They lost their advantage to the cannons and gunpowder in the 13th century.