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Fifteenth-century Chinese engineers didn’t so much reinvent the wheel as dispense with it altogether – opting to drag heavy stones for building the Forbidden City along a slippery artificial ice road instead of wheeling them.

That, at least, is the upshot of the latest analysis of a 17th-century Chinese text. Such a method would be 10 times as efficient as dragging the rocks along non-icy ground – suggesting that Chinese engineers had a more sophisticated understanding of friction than their Western counterparts at that time. (1)

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