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Donald Hill was a British engineer who retired from working for Iraq Petroleum Company. He was paid by the Pakistan Hijara Council and UNESCO to translate books written by Islamic Golden Age inventors, and neglected to mention that most of these devices were copied from the Greeks, Romans and Byzantines.
The Banu Musa brothers were 9th century Muslim astronomers who worked in the same building that contained a huge collection of Byzantine books written in Greek.
They misidentified an illustration of a Roman dredge as a “mechanical grab”.
A trick device invented by Hero (or Heron) of Alexandria, to change water into wine at pagan temples, is misidentified.
A device likely used by the host at Byzantine parties to trick the guests into thinking no more wine remained was misidentified as the invention of a fail-safe device to cut off the flow if a water pipe breaks.
Their float valve was copied from a Jew named Philo of Alexandria.
Donald Hill concocted a false story of a breathing mask from an illustration of Roman bellows.
The Romans, not the Banu Musa brothers, invented the ratchet.
Other authors and en.wikipedia have copied the misinformation provided by Donald Hill.
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modern clamshell bucket dredge similar to the Roman clamshell bucket dredge mislabeled in a book by the Banu Musa brothers
BANU MUSA BROTHERS
The Banu Musa brothers (9th century Muslim astronomers who worked in the same building that contained a huge collection of Byzantine books written in Greek) copied an illustration from a Roman or Byzantine book they had seen.
They did not know about Roman dredges, and misidentified it as a “mechanical grab”, but that does not make sense. Using a closed box bucket instead of a gripping device similar to fireplace tongs would likely disturb the silt at the bottom, which would decrease visibility and cover up any object you were trying to retrieve. Lifting the silt in a box only makes sense if it is the silt you intended to remove.
Donald Hill was a British-born engineer working at the Iraq Petroleum Company. In the 1980s, after retirement, with funding from the Pakistan Hijara Council and from UNESCO, he translated Islamic Golden Age engineering books from Arabic into English. He failed to mention that similar devices had been written about centuries earlier by Greeks, Romans and Byzantines. In writing about the Pseudo-Archimedes water clock, Donald Hill failed to mention that the clock existed in the Greek-speaking Byzantine Empire Christian city of Gaza before Muslims conquered Gaza and copied the clock. Donald Hill falsely claims that Pseudo-Archimedes may have been a Muslim. (This claim is nonsense. A Pseudo-Archimedes clock existed in Gaza prior to the birth of the prophet Mohammed.)
Other authors have published books copying what Donald Hill had written.
[Professor Donald Hill at SUNY (State University of New York), who wrote about Caribbean folklore, is a different person.]
Hero (or Heron) of Alexandria in the 1st century had built much more advanced devices than those shown in the Banu Musa brothers books. Hero used knots on ropes to produce an entire play with programmed mechanical actors and programmed motion of stage scenery.
THE BOOK OF INGENIOUS DEVICES
Donald Hill translated the book “The Book of Ingenious Devices” into English and added commentary.
The simple devices such as float valves and musical instruments played by water, air or steam are similar to those in Byzantine Empire first century Alexandria works by Philo (a Jew who adopted Greek culture) and Hero of Alexandria. The Banu Musa brothers copied the Byzantine idea of pegs mounted on a water wheel hitting drums, and of air powered flute players. Donald Hill falsely praised these as the Banu Musa invention of computer programming.
WATER TO WINE
Many of the devices shown in the books by the Banu Musa brothers were trick devices invented by Hero for use in polytheistic temples. Water was poured into the top, but wine from a tank hidden inside the device poured out the bottom. The Banu Musa brothers and Donald Hill copied the illustrations, but were unable to explain the function of the devices.
One device (on page 196 of the Banu Musa brothers book), containing a hidden float valve, cut off the flow of liquid if too much liquid flowed in a short period of time. It was a trick device (invented by a Greek) for the bartender to pretend there was no more wine, when the host of the party decided it was time for the guests to go home. Donald Hill did not understand the function of the device, and incorrectly praised it as the Banu Musa brothers inventing a fail safe device to limit the loss of water if a water pipe broke.
Although there is no proof that Greek Byzantines had invented such a liquid cutoff valve, Greek Byzantines were known to have used a trick device whereby the bartender could by the placement of his fingers secretly control whether the guest received full strength wine or watered-down wine.
CONSTANTLY REFILLED VESSEL
In chapter 75, the Banu Musa brothers provide a diagram of a device and state “… when float (t) rises as the water runs into tank (m) the tap turns and closes. We make its closing position when the water in tank (m) reaches position (s)”. According to Prager and Woodcroft, the construction and the effects of invention 75 of the Banu Musa brothers is very similar to the constantly refilled vessel invention in chapters 17, 18 and 19 of “Pneumatics” by Philo of Alexandria http://books.google.com/books?id=MdpAo6SaOL0C&pg=PA21&lpg=PA20&ots=4NcRfYuHR6&focus=viewport&dq=prager+woodcroft&output=html_text
Philo of Alexandria was an early 1st century Hellenized Jew living in Alexandria in the Roman Empire. [Philo of Alexandria was not the same person as Philo of Byzantium.]
A book by Al-Jazari, perhaps copying from books written by the Banu Musa brothers, shows a rotating mechanical device that measures the same amount of wine to be poured into the cup of each guest at a party. Since drinking wine is not permitted by Islam, this drawing was probably copied from a book by a Greek inventor in Alexandria (such as Hero) when it was part of the Byzantine Empire half of the Roman Empire.
The drawing on page 193 contains a crank, but the brothers did not invent the crank. The crankshaft was invented by the Chinese. The 3rd century Roman sawmill at Hierapolis was the earliest known machine to combine a crank and a connecting rod. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hierapolis_sawmill.
Crank handles were used in 1st century Roman ships. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nemi_ships
FRESH AIR MASK?
Page 240 displays an illustration of a bellows, similar to bellows used by Romans to produce a temperature high enough to smelt iron.
Donald Hill lies through his teeth, concocting a false story that the Banu Musa brothers must have invented the bellows to be attached to a breathing mask to be used by workers in a well. Actually, the Banu Musa brothers book contains only an illustration of the Roman bellows, and no illustration of a breathing mask or a well.l
Another Banu Musa brothers book shows a ratchet, which prevents a gear from moving in the reverse direction, but the Banu Musa brothers did not invent it. The ratchet-and-pawl (called a “nut” when used on crossbows) was depicted in a sculpture of hunters in Roman Gaul in pre-Islamic times. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossbow
On page 17 of this book the Banu Musa brothers wrote of a device that varied the shape of a water fountain at intervals. See http://www.muslimheritage.com/article/self-changing-fountain-banu-musa-bin-shakir
Inventors in the Greek-speaking Roman colony of Alexandria had designed fountains, but I do not know whether or not they varied the shape of the spouting water.
DID THE BROTHERS INVENT ANYTHING?
Although Donald Hill claims all of these devices were invented by the Banu Musa brothers, more likely most or perhaps all the illustrations were copied from Byzantine books in the House of Wisdom where the astronomer Banu Musa brothers worked in Baghdad.
Image of Weeks 506 Clamshell Dredge with a 31 cubic yard clamshell bucket.
Image credit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Grab_Dredging_Process.JPG#mw-jump-to-license
Image has been cropped by William Siepmann.