Long have I searched for Terry Jones' "Ancient Inventions" series (well, at least since 1998 when it briefly aired). For those of you who remember James Burke's brilliant "Connections" series, you would also like Jones' short series about the unexpected, serendipidous paths taken towards humanity's most noteworthy inventions. Given that Jones is a Monty Python alum, it shouldn't be surprising that this program is more heavily weighted towards humor than Burke's was. It doesn't trivialize its subject matter however; its ultimate thesis actually goes grimly further than James Burke's program did. According to Jones, every innovation has brought vexing new problems. Human history is not a march of progress, but rather a vicious circle carved by a species forever trying to overtake challenges of its own making. Moreover, he adds that inventions don't simply enter use when they are devised, but can rot away, unappreciated, until political and social circumstances are ripe.
As an educator, I've found that "Ancient Inventions" is highly accessible to cynical teenagers. Its tongue-in-cheek discussion of many inventions slips deftly into young minds. As wonderfully appropriate as "Ancient Inventions" is, the next installment in this series - "The History of Sex" - while similar in tone and interest, is not. So park the latter at home, folks.