Who invented the staircase?

Posted by: admin on 11/08/2007

Who Asked: Micah
NaNo-novel: Undecided

Answer: This is a really interesting question, and I’m glad you asked it, because it sheds a bit of light on the research process.

If you were hoping for the name of an individual, I’m sorry. Stairs have been around for a long time, and that information has been lost. The Staircase: History and Theories asserts, “Stairs, ladders, and ramps entered the thesaurus of building components in prehistoric times.” Apparently, the first stairs were created accidentally. The same resource says, “On a path that is steep and slippery, we climb by pushing our feet against a root or rock or sod or into a rut. These footholds may develop into a pattern of rough steps, or what Rothery (1912) calls modified land stairs.” It is only a few mental steps—no pun intended&151from that to an intentional staircase.

According to several sources, the oldest surviving stairs are those found in the ruins of Jericho. The Jewish Virtual Library claims these stairs are more than 7,000 years old, which means that staircases may have had their start in an area commonly credited as being the cradle of civilization.

In that same geographic area, even earlier, the Babylonians were building ziggurats with stairs. According to the article Did the Tower of Babel Really Exist?, “In 458 B.C., after the tower had been crumbling for many years, the Greek historian Herodotus visited the tower, or at least the later version of it. Today we have a tablet giving measurements and the eye-witness account of Herodotus: ‘It has a solid central tower, one furlong square, with a second erected on top of it and then a third, and so on up to eight. All eight towers can be climbed by a spiral way running around the outside, and about halfway up there are seats for those who make the journey to rest on.’ He describes the squares or stages of the tower in different colors with a temple at its top.” This means that it is possible that one of the first users of stairs could have been Nimrod.

At this point, I can’t help but point out that is isn’t always a good idea to go with the first answer you find on the internet. The first article that pops up when doing an internet search says, “Stairs have become such a commonplace fixture in contemporary architecture that it is easy to forget that they were not invented until 1948, by Swiss architect Werner Bösendörfer. Prior to the advent of stairs (or ‘stairsteppes,’ as they were originally called), most people moved between building levels using ramps or ladders.” It says in very small print at the bottom of the page that this is a parody, but several other sites have picked up the flawed information.

You could work the idea of flawed information into your novel fairly easily, though. Imagine a young character who believes stairs were invented in 1948, only to visit an antebellum home and see a sweeping staircase. Or, imagine, that the character has believed misinformation of a more serious nature . . .

Hope this helps! Thanks for playing Stump the Librarian!


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