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Gunpowder

 
   
 
Like the idea of zero, gunpowder developed gradually over time. In 142 AD, during the Han Dynasty, a man named Wei Boyang was the first to write anything about gunpowder. He wrote about a mixture of three powders that would "fly and dance" violently. We aren't sure that he meant gunpowder, but that's the only explosive that uses three ingredients that we know of. He may have been a Taoist trying to find a potion to let you live forever.
But it was under the rule of the T'ang Dynasty, about 700 AD, that people really began to use gunpowder. T'ang Dynasty emperors used gunpowder to put on great fireworks displays. By 904 AD, Chinese inventors saw that you could also use gunpowder for a powerful weapon. First the army used gunpowder in the form of rockets. They put small stone cannonballs inside bamboo tubes and shot the cannonballs out by lighting gunpowder at one end. This is the same idea that makes guns and cannons work today.

The Chinese emperors tried to keep their discovery secret, but by the 1100's AD their secret had gotten out, and people in the Islamic Empire and then the Roman Empire began to understand how to use gunpowder for weapons. After that, it wasn't long before people in Europe also learned how to use gunpowder. We aren't sure exactly how they found out, but it might have something to do with the Third Crusade. By 1216 AD, a monk named Roger Bacon in England described gunpowder as a weapon. He thought of it as something that came from foreign places.

 
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