I think Imperial China is the classic example. They gained and lost technologies over and over. My theory is that because they only have one ideograph per word, they can't easily extend the written language and keep innovations in their literature.
They also had a command economy for long periods of time, which can discourage innovation. Especially if people in progressive times couldn't read the old books about inventions.
Additionally, they never achieved an industrial revolution because their population always grew in tandem with their technology, so that they never had enough capital surplus to fuel an industrial revolution.
Brad Delong at UC Berkeley Economics has an interesting paper about the industrial revolution on his web site. He's an historical economist. Apparently the industrial revolution in England was a very rare, anomalous event, that almost didn't happen. By luck or a blessing of God, England came late to the nasty wars of the 17th century, and all of England's classes (Protestants all) were threatened with extinction (by Catholic Invasion threats). The universal threat permitted progressive taxation, including taxation of the nobles. The lateness and progressive-ness of the war taxation permitted ENgland to save up reserve capital, enough, barely, for the industrial revolution to snowball into Victorian England.
On Fri, 28 May 1999 22:58:15 -0700 Spike Jones <email@example.com> writes:
>> Lee Daniel Crocker wrote: ... It is idle fantasy to
>> imagine that (1) technology can move backwards, ...
>The latest Star Wars episode made me wonder: can technology
>go backwards? They seemed to imply technology was going
>violently aft. Can anyone think of an example, now or in any time
>past, where a society had it and later didn't? Descended from
>enlightenment to superstition? Would dark ages Europe qualify? spike