I am wondering if there where actual cases when one civilization/country got advanced technology from another and due to lack of knowledge lost it. By advanced technology I mean that it was advanced for that particular civilization/country at that time, not necessary advanced for us now.

For clarification: it should not be lost because they thought they do not need it any more. They should want it to have and use it but due to lack of knowledge how to operate/preserve lost it.

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    Welcome to History:SE. What has your research shown you so far? Where have you already searched? What did you find? Please help us to help you. You might find it helpful to review the site tour and Help Centre and, in particular, How to Ask. Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 18:39
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    ??? after due lack of knowledge lost it? I don't know what that means. Isn't the definition of lost technology "lack of knowledge"? Doesn't the whole concept of the dark ages answer this? Forks & siege equipment? What about cargo cults? At this point I recommend closure until question is clarified.\
    – MCW
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 21:50
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    Seems awefully close to this question
    – justCal
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 23:46
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    @justCal Yes, I noticed that too. I'm curious about how many of the answers to that question will be repeated here, and whether/when this question will be closed by the community, like that one was. Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 0:08
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    Given that there is an answer, I'd love to see this question edited and re-opened. But as it stands, I just don't know what this question means or how to answer it.
    – MCW
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 17:11

3 Answers 3


Roman concrete:

The strength and longevity of Roman marine concrete is understood to benefit from a reaction of seawater with a mixture of volcanic ash and quicklime to create a rare crystal called tobermorite, which may resist fracturing. As seawater percolated within the tiny cracks in the Roman concrete, it reacted with phillipsite naturally found in the volcanic rock and created aluminous tobermorite crystals. The result is a candidate for "the most durable building material in human history". In contrast, modern concrete exposed to saltwater deteriorates within decades.

Compressive strengths for modern Portland cements are typically at the 50 megapascals (7,300 psi) level and have improved almost ten-fold since 1860. There are no comparable mechanical data for ancient mortars, although some information about tensile strength may be inferred from the cracking of Roman concrete domes. These tensile strengths vary substantially from the water/cement ratio used in the initial mix. At present, there is no way of ascertaining what water/cement ratios the Romans used, nor are there extensive data for the effects of this ratio on the strengths of pozzolanic cements.


Usable examples of Roman concrete exposed to harsh marine environments have been found to be 2000 years old with little or no wear.

Even today we do not know how to manufacture a marine concrete with the same strength and durability. For non-marine uses it is quite comparable to the best concretes made with Portland cement, which only dates from the mid 19th century.

The difference in longevity between Roman and modern concretes, in marine usages, is at least one and perhaps two orders of magnitude. That's like comparing softwood lumber to corrugated cardboard.

To re-iterate, for emphasis:

  • The best modern concretes last on the order of 25 to 30 years in a salt water environment.

  • We have no idea what the lifetime of Roman concrete is in a saltwater environment is - because so many examples are still there and appearing to still be curing rather then weakening more than 2000 years later.

This technology was available to the Eastern Roman Empire - a Greek or hybrid Greco-Roman rather than strictly Roman culture and civilization - subsequent to the fall of Rome itself and was lost by them at some point.

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    Did the Romans obtain their concrete technology from another civilisation, or did they invent it themselves? I'd always understood it was the latter, following experience with concrete made using volcanic ash from the Pozzuoli region near Naples. Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 23:50
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    I'm inclined to agree. So it probably doesn't meet the criteria of a technology that one civilization/country got from another. It's a great example of a technology that has been lost though. Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 0:00
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    @sempaiscuba The Eastern Roman empire got it from the Western Roman Empire - and lost it, either on their own or during the collapse to the Ottomans. Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 0:05
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    @jamesqf: I have not seen or heard of evidence of it's use in the late Medieval period, so I believe it was lost during the Byzantine decline prior to 1453. Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 18:52
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    @jamesqf: Why does it matter, for the question, how they lost it? Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 20:45

Any examples when one civilization/country got technology from another and after due to lack of knowledge lost it.

What about the United States and manned space flight?

How We Lost the Ability to Travel to the Moon

The United States space program was based upon the German WWII space technology.
The United States military ballistic missile and intercontinental ballistic missile programs; as well as the civilian Gemini, Mercury, and Apollo programs were all based on and lead by former German / Nazi rocket/missile scientists and technicians.

A few notable German Scientists who worked for US Rocket Industry and NASA.

  • Wernher von Braun, The first Director of Marshall Space Flight Center(1958-1970) was chief architect of the Apollo Saturn V rocket and designer of the Saturn V engines and was the Top German space scientist of WWII who designed their V2 rockets.

Wernher von Braun NASA was established by law on July 29, 1958. One day later, the 50th Redstone rocket was successfully launched from Johnston Atoll in the south Pacific as part of Operation Hardtack I. Two years later, NASA opened the Marshall Space Flight Center at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, and the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) development team led by von Braun was transferred to NASA. In a face-to-face meeting with Herb York at the Pentagon, von Braun made it clear he would go to NASA only if development of the Saturn were allowed to continue.[87] Von Braun became the center's first director on 1 July 1960 and held the position until 27 January 1970.

  • Arthur Rudolph the assistant director of systems engineering for NASA, project director of the Saturn V rocket program, developed the requirements for the rocket system and the mission plan for the Apollo program.

  • Kurt Heinrich Debus directed the design, development, construction and operation of NASA's Saturn launch facilities at the north end of Cape Canaveral and adjacent Merritt Island in Florida. Under him, NASA conducted 150 launches of military missiles and space vehicles, including 13 Saturn V rockets, the booster for the Apollo manned moon landings.

  • Ernst Stuhlinger developed guidance systems with Wernher von Braun's team for the US Army, and later was a scientist with NASA. He was also instrumental in the development of the ion engine for long-endurance space flight, and a wide variety of scientific experiments.

  • Konrad Dannenberg Deputy Manager of the Saturn program.1 He received the NASA Exceptional Service Medal in 1973 for successfully initiating development of the largest rocket ever built, the Saturn V, which took the first human beings to the moon.

  • Eberhard Rees After serving as Deputy Director of Development Operations for the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, Rees became the Marshall Space Flight Center Deputy for Technical and Scientific Matters in 1960 and directed the Lunar Roving Vehicle program. On March 1, 1970, Rees was appointed as the Director of the Marshall Space Flight Center, in Huntsville, Alabama, from which he managed the Skylab space station development and construction.

  • Walter Haeussermann NASA was formed in 1958, and Haeussermann was on the initial roster. There, he led electrical, computer systems, guidance, and navigation systems for the Saturn V. His contributions to the space program were recognized with:

    • Department of the Army Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service in 1959
    • NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, 1963
    • NASA Exceptional Service Medal, 1969
    • Institute of Navigation Superior Achievement Award, 1969
  • Krafft Arnold Ehricke worked at Bell Aircraft, and then for Convair in 1952. While at Convair, he designed the D-1 Centaur, the world's first upper-stage-booster that used liquid hydrogen and oxygen. He also created an early space station design, based on launch by Convair's Atlas rocket. The NEXUS reusable rocket was a 1960s concept design by a group at General Dynamics led by Krafft Ehricke. Also, during his stay at General Dynamics, he participated on Project Orion (nuclear propulsion). In 1966, Ehricke was inducted into the International Aerospace Hall of Fame for his engineering achievements and his influential ideas on the purpose of space exploration. Ehricke received a space burial on April 21, 1997.

  • Ernst R. G. Eckert jet propulsion research in 1945 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. In 1951, Eckert joined the University of Minnesota in the department of mechanical engineering. Eckert published over 550 scientific papers and books. The Eckert number in fluid dynamics was named after him. In 1995 the National Academy of Engineering honored Eckert with its thirteenth Founders Award.

  • Gunter Wendt noted for his work in the U.S. human spaceflight program. An employee of McDonnell Aircraft and later North American Aviation, he was in charge of the spacecraft close-out crews at the launch pads for the entire Mercury and Gemini programs (1961–1966), and the manned phase of the Apollo program (1968–1975) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). His official title was Pad Leader.

  • Werner W. Hohenner development of Germany's V-1 rocket during World War II and later played a major role in the design of the Polaris missile program for the Navy.

All told the US recruited 700 German rocket engineers and technicians in Operation Paperclip to jump start and form the nucleus of the US ballistic missile program and then NASA's manned space programs which eventually took astronauts to the moon.

In the late 1970's the United States moved away from single use rockets. It tried to pioneer a re-usable Space Shuttle program primarily due to alleged cost savings of the reusable technology. After the space shuttle was retired, and the financial benefits it promised never materialized the decision was made to return to single use rockets. Only the US had lost the ability to produce the Saturn V or any rockets for it's own use. The US was relegated to purchase Russian rockets and ULA (a consortium of prominent American space companies) still uses Russian Engines, to float satellites. America's manned space program since the retirement of the shuttle has consisted of purchasing seats on Russian Soyuz rockets to transport astronauts (50+ times) to the international space station; while it worked to re-invented the technology and capabilities it had last used in the mid 1970's.

Why does America still use Soyuz rockets to put its astronauts in space?

To date no American has flown in space on an American rocket since the retirement of the space shuttle in July 2011. The Russian Soyuz rockets have flown more than 50 times with American Astronauts to or from the International Space Station.

Russian Embassy Washington DC
Russian rocket engines to continue launching America into space🚀

The cheaper and more reliable RD-180 engine is developed and manufactured by #Energomash and is designed for the US Atlas carrier rockets @ulalaunch

👉 https://t.co/S2lYYm8Pip pic.twitter.com/thuDbi7WSp

— Russia in USA 🇷🇺 (@RusEmbUSA) July 31, 2018

From Comments

@LangLangC, That's a fantastic, twisted thought. Only I wonder if it does conflate two things: US 'lost' the ability to re-built the exact Apollo type. True? But it could do sth like that, manned space rocket, easily, if financed? ICBMs and Mars missions seem to indicate that NASA and military have monetary priorities & just conclude: "buy Russian if you want cheap stuff that just works"?

Yes, the US lost the ability to produce the Saturn V rocket first designed by Warner Von Braun. But more than that regardless of budget the US lost the ability to build its own rockets.

As the cost per seat on Russian Rocket's grew, NASA spent billions to keep access to the International Space Station.

Russia is squeezing NASA for more than $3.3 billion — and there's little anyone can do about it

enter image description here

Meanwhile NASA's Constellation rocket program 2006-2009 was cancelled quoting President Obama "over budget, behind schedule, and lacking in innovation."

NASA's alternative Space Launch System (announced 2011) the Space Launch Vehicle which is comparable in size and capability to the Saturn V first flown in 1967. The SLS is currently 5 years behind schedule (first flight projected for 2021) and about 7 billion over budget. (Supposed to originally cost 10 billion).

@pokep It's not due to lack of knowledge … it's due to a heightened appreciation for safety. Now that putting a man in space has minimal political value, the willingness to risk human life for symbolic purposes has changed.

It's absolutely due to a lack of knowledge. The engineers who built the "safe", reliable and powerful Saturn V are all dead or retired; the companies are gone; and the United States no longer has the ability to produce those vehicles any longer. The US has struggled for about 15 years to recreate that capability while spending billions annually in the effort.

Kennedy challenged NASA May 6 1961:
"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth."

In that time the Saturn V rocket's design was complete in 1962 and it's first flight was November 9, 1967 and America Landed the first man on the moon in 1969.

Compare that to NASA's SLS, which has comparable capabilities to the Saturn V, and which has been under development now for 9 years and has yet to leave the ground, much less carry humans in space. SLS is currently scheduled to return man to the moon in 2024.

@Gort the Robot Define "ability". Just because I pay someone else to retile my bathroom doesn't mean I don't have the ability to do it myself. –

Klatu here … Let's forget about NASA's failed Constipation program, and blame the entire engineering fiasco ( over budget, behind schedule, lack of innovation) On bad luck. Let's only discuss the newer but also over budget, behind schedule, and lack of innovation of the SLS. It's basically a recreation of the Saturn V. Only to recreate the Saturn V which took 5 years to design and fly. The SLS will have taken modern NASA 10 years to design and fly. Clearly NASA had to re-invent the capability and at great expense. That means the ability to build the Saturn V, the technology was lost.

@LangLangC While I don't quite get the DVs: 1. As I read the Q (which remains unclear as of yet), the tech has to be 'received from another civ' (Braun & Co may have been instrumental, but they didn't come with a full package, ready to moonrock)

They didn't come with an assemble line in their pocket but they pretty much did come with the technology. Wernher von Braun, along with about seven hundred German rocket engineers and technicians spent their first 10 years in the US transferring German Rocket Technology to American Scientists. After sputnik, they formed the backbone of the Juno rocket team which floated the first American satellite into space. They also designed and built the rockets for the Gemini, Mercury and Apollo space programs. Braun himself was the first director of NASA's Marshal Space Flight Center.

  1. The evidence you bring for 'ability' is circumstantial (even if good, I've heard that before; but I still read it all too much connected to SatV). Do you have a more direct expert opinion/analysis that clearly says "We lost that 'man into space' tech/knowledge, can't get it back, no matter the money" (in foreseeable future)

When Kennedy first proposed putting a man on the moon in 1962, it took 7 years to accomplish that task. The SLS has now been under development for 10 years and won't fly us to the moon for another 5 years… (2024).

I would just add that space technology isn't turn key. It's not like getting into your car, twisting the ignition and away you go. (Well, it might be for space X but the Saturn V never was). Each Saturn V rocket was an incredible complex individual effort. With tens of thousands of sensors and pre checks and operation procedures. We didn't loose our understanding of space nor our ability to engineer. But we did lose our ability to manufacture such an incredible complex system. WE lost the ability to build the Saturn V engines etc. It's not controversial to say. We didn't just lose our ability to reproduce THE Saturn V rocket, but any comparable replacement. And we've had to recreate the wheel.
That's all I'm saying.

@GorttheRobot, I have a few issues with this question, but the primary one is that there's no evidence any knowledge was lost, which is the crux of the question. I am nearly certain NASA, Boeing, etc. have all of the technical knowledge needed to recreate the Saturn V. What's missing is money and will. The SLS is, of course, not a recreation but something entirely new.

"No evidence", beyond the fact it's taken three times as long, two iterations and tens of billions of dollars; to recreate the approximate capabilities of the Saturn V; decades after the Saturn V first flew; and to date they still haven't ever flown their replacement. This and of coarse for much of that time prior to SpaceX the entire US space program was entirely dependent upon Russia for launching satellites and astronauts at the cost of additional tens of billions of dollars.

15 years including the Constellation Program and then the SLS. The Constellation estimated cost was 230 Billion up through 2025, but it was cancelled in 2010 after 5 years for "unsolved technical and design challenges which made it impossible for NASA to provide a conclusive (cost) estimate. The SLS which is itself billions over budget and years behind schedule.

@jamesqf - WRT the US getting basic rocket knowledge from captured German engineers, you're perhaps forgetting that the Germans got a lot of their basic knowledge from an American: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_H._Goddard

Always a pleasure James. You are confusing knowledge and technology. The Germans might have gotten basic rocket knowledge (theory, physic formula's, early liquid Rocket fuel (liquid kerosene and O2) from Goddard. However; the US got the first working mass produced ballistic missiles and the world's first practical design for an ICBM, A9/10 from Germany in 1945. Additionally our first ICBM in the 1953, our first nuclear ICBM (the Redstone rocket in 1956) as well as the knowledge to use and improve them from the 700 German engineers, technicians and scientists who the US also "recruited" after the war. Far Beyond "basic knowledge", The US got the architect of NASA's rocket program who also designed and built the engines that took us to the moon, as well as the guy who designed and built Cape Canaveral's launch facilities, as well as the guy who oversaw operations, as well as the first two directors of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center etc etc etc Germany's contribution to the American space program of the 1950s, 60's, and 70's was systemic and pervasive throughout the leadership of NASA.

@jamesqf Isn't saying that the US can't build Saturn Vs any more rather like saying that it can't build 8-track tape systems any more? Or vacuum-tube radios, CRT computer displays, floppy disk drives... – jamesqf 31 mins ago

Yes exactly, saying that the US can't re-produce one of human kind's most incredible engineering feats, 47 years after having last done so. The human knowledge no longer exists; the contracting companies no longer exist, that means the engineering and process documentation are fragmented or lost. Not to mention just the manufacturing processes don't exist, we don't use those same manufacturing techniques anymore. This is an engineering feat which at the time inspired a generation of engineering students. That's exactly the same as saying we can't build a vacuum-tube radio; something which costs just a few dollars and is regularly done by hobbyists all over the world.

@Gort the Robot, Note that the Saturn V cost around $42 billion in 2019 dollars while the SLS budget is $7 billion. I am fairly certain we could get to the moon faster than we did in the sixties if we through $288 billion at it. – Gort the Robot 14 mins ago

You are talking development costs. But according to you we already know how to rebuild the Saturn V. So should we be comparing manufacturing costs of Saturn V against the up to date development and manufacturing costs of the SLS?

The Saturn V cost $750 million per launch in 2017 dollars. Manufacturing Cost.
The SLS will cost more than $2 Billion per launch or 59-69 Billion dollars total costs. It was originally supposed to cost $10 billion we've already spent $28 Billion as of 2019 with all the overruns and NASA is saying it's going to cost another 20-30 Billion to get the damned thing flying and then on to the moon. New first launch date is now 2021. It's already missed 2 previous launch dates.

The Saturn V wasn't more expensive. The SLS was never going to be less expensive. NASA doesn't do less expensive.

We built the Saturn V
At more than $100 million each (equivalent to $750 million today (Oct 2017)), they departed Earth, then fell in pieces into the ocean.

SLS cost $28 Billion into SLS Through 2019 and $59-69 Billion Total Cost SLS by 2024

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said Bridenstine earlier indicated the Artemis program "could cost $20 (billion) to $30 billion over the next five years. By my math, that calls on the Congress to appropriate $4 (billion) to $6 billion in extra funding each year."

The White House puts a price on the SLS rocket—and it’s a lot
" Vought wrote to the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Alabama Republican Richard Shelby. "At an estimated cost of over $2 billion per launch for the SLS once development is complete

@Gort the Robot And again, remember that then OP’s question is about loss of knowledge, not loss of will or willingness to pay. It’s not “are we currently building Saturn V equivalents but “if we spent a quarter of the national budget today, could we have a Saturn V in 6 years” – Gort the Robot

NASA's budget never exceeded 4.41% of the federal budget, and it only reached that lofty percentage for one year in 1966. Beyond that: the SLS, the Constellation, and Space Shuttle and SLS were all vastly more expensive (development and per launch costs) than the manufacturing costs of the Saturn V. The fact that it has taken 15 years for NASA to replace the Saturn V, a rocket which only took 7 years to design and fly to the moon, is evidence NASA lost the technological capability to build a rocket suitable for manned spaceflight to the moon and directly refutes your hypothesis that cost and motivation were the deciding factors. Clearly they have been re-inventing the wheel for the last 15 years, and unsuccessfully so with respect to the cancelled constellation. Jury is still out on the SLS, we do know it's years behind schedule and tens of billions of dollars over budget, and recently the Whitehouse has said it will cost more than 2 billion dollars a launch. When it eventually does fly.

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    That's a fantastic, twisted thought. Only I wonder if it does conflate two things: US 'lost' the ability to re-built the exact Apollo type. True? But it could do sth like that,manned space rocket, easily, if financed? ICBMs and Mars missions seem to indicate that NASA and military have monetary priorities & just conclude: "buy Russian if you want cheap stuff that just works"? Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 21:29
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    Define "ability". Just because I pay someone else to retile my bathroom doesn't mean I don't have the ability to do it myself.
    – user15620
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 22:13
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    I have a few issues with this question, but the primary one is that there's no evidence any knowledge was lost, which is the crux of the question. I am nearly certain NASA, Boeing, etc. have all of the technical knowledge needed to recreate the Saturn V. What's missing is money and will. The SLS is, of course, not a recreation but something entirely new.
    – user15620
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 0:30
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    @JMS: Isn't saying that the US can't build Saturn Vs any more rather like saying that it can't build 8-track tape systems any more? Or vacuum-tube radios, CRT computer displays, floppy disk drives...
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 20:51
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    @GorttheRobot, we can't just dust off NASA's blueprints and build another Saturn V. The electronics for making the Instrument Unit are no longer available, and we've lost the knowledge of how to weld the cooling tubes making up the nozzle of the F-1 engine -- but that's because both are obsolete. A smartphone has all the capabilities of the IU at about a ten-thousandth the weight, and advances in fluid dynamics mean we can use a solid nozzle with boundary-layer management rather than an actively cooled one.
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 17, 2020 at 1:23

Welcome on stack exchange.

I can think of a few examples:

  • In Egypt, I think the Low-Nile part, under Hyskos, obtained some horse vehicles but the Egyptians built them by themselves later
  • During the Middle Age, can't recall of specific examples but I am sure some technologies (especiallly farming technics) migrated from abbey to abbey without a continuous management of them
  • During the 16th century, the Aztecs had got (from capture, if I remember well) some guns from Spanish conquistadores. They did not know what they were made of nor what they were made for. Thus, they used them as a gift for their gods by sinking them into lakes.
  • During 1905 Russo Japanese war, Japanese navy got English-made devices to calculate the distance of ennemy boats. They were not able to build them later, and had to wait for other ship deliveries from Europe to know how to make them. Later, they made very good ones
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    +1 pending the addition of sources Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 23:37
  • Typo: should be Hyksos, not Hyskos.
    – Noldorin
    Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 17:37

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