Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Visit Beautiful Downtown Caral!

This South American city was established around 2600 BC, and remained active and inhabited until approximately 1800 BC. This is about the same time that Egyptians were building their great pyramids. Caral is a contender for the oldest city in the Americas.
Archeologists found a quipas* (knotted rope) that may have been the source of the quipu used by the Inca civilization centuries later. They also have found reed and woven carry bags that allowed them to carbon-date the site with great accuracy, so the city’s date may be pushed back even further, since items from the oldest area have not yet been dated.
Caral is located in the Supe Valley in Peru, some 120 miles north of modern Lima. It has temples, an amphitheater and residential houses that could have accommodated a population of 3,000. This doesn’t sound big in our time, but Caral spawned 19 ‘suburbs’ in Supe Valley, which would have housed 20,000 when taken altogether.
Archeologists have found no evidence of warfare in Caral. They have found a number of wind instruments, such as flutes and cornettes (more similar to a flute than to modern cornets) made from bird and animal bones. They evidently traded with the coast and inland. Depictions of monkeys have been found, so perhaps they traded with people from the Amazon.
Caral was part of the Norte Chico civilization, possibly the first example of cities and organization in the Americas. The Norte Chico also inhabited two other arid river valleys in the area and downstream on the coast. Some have suggested that the cities relied on food from the sea, but irrigation ditches have been noted, so farming was known. They grew squash, beans, lĂșcuma, guava, pacay, sweet potato and maize. The coast supplied anchovies and sardines, with clams and mussels in a lesser amount.
The farmers also grew cotton. Although not edible, it was necessary to make fishing nets, fabric and clothing, bags, wraps and even adornment.
Although the government in Caral is not fully understood, there is evidence that some people could and did exert power to organize workers. For instance, the two main platform mounds (step pyramids) of Caral were built in one or possibly two phases of intense construction, while other portions of the city’s monumental construction were done a little bit at a time.
The Norte Chico did not have ceramics, so cooking would have been done over an open flame; they would not have been able to boil anything. They also did not carve or paint, except for a very few depictions, so the interiors of their buildings would have been bare… unless they used their skill with cotton and grasses to produce decorative materials that have not survived.
Are you ready to visit? Perhaps you want to check out Caral’s official website. Since Caral does not sit atop a mountain, you won’t have to take a harrowing bus ride up a too-narrow cliff-side road, but… it is in the desert, so make sure you take water.
This is the kind of history I like; no battle dates or general’s names in the entire bit of information.

*Quipas – An interesting note about quipas is that some scientists now believe they were not only a form of counting, but could also be used to record a type of shorthand.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

How Black is a Black Hole?

Have you seen the Disney movie, Black Hole, from 1979? It was typical Disney fare; clueless good guy, camouflaged bad guy, comic relief characters… And all the action happened on a ship that sat in space, just outside the ‘point of no return’ of a Black Hole, which was depicted as a whirlpool of light.
Even then, I knew a black hole was ‘a region of space having a gravitational field so intense that no matter or radiation can escape.’ So that depiction of a black hole bothered me. If light can’t escape, then the black hole would not appear as a whirlpool of light. It should be black. Even light from stars beyond the black hole shouldn’t be seen; it would be bent and swallowed before it reached the observer. Right?
That’s what I was thinking, anyway.
These days, the idea of a Black Hole is not quite so… black and white.
NASA says a black hole is a place in space where the gravity is so intense, light cannot escape. In the same article, they say that if a black hole is located close to a star, high-energy (invisible) light is released. I suppose this is a special case, but I think they should have started by saying no visible light can escape.
Another NASA webpage states that black holes cannot be seen, because (visible) light cannot escape. But anything in the vicinity is effected. Dust bits will fall into the black hole, getting closer and closer until they hit that ‘point of no return’, when the light reflecting off them can no longer escape. The gravity will tug at any stars and planets in the area, making them wobble as they try to resist. Stars might even be pulled apart, and slurped up. As the star matter accelerates toward the hole, it emits x-rays, which can be detected by the proper equipment.
But something can and does escape from black holes, in a way. Some matter that is falling into a black hole ricochets off the event horizon (point of no return) instead of going through it. It bounces away at a speed so great, the jet of material can be detected relatively easily.
If that’s not enough for you, then consider a super-black hole that spins really, really fast. This spin creates a charge-separated magnetosphere, which forms parallel electrical charges around the poles. Particles accelerate to very close almost the speed of light and are thrown out into space as gamma radiation bursts. Bursts have been observed from the massive black hole at the center of Galaxy IC310. However, the description of how they are created is just a theory, since no one can see inside the event horizon to see what’s going on.
So, Black Holes are pretty black, unless something is escaping.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Let me Babyl on

Mankind’s history – particularly the really ancient stuff – fascinates me. Are Atlantis, Mu and Lemuria fact or fiction? When did our ancestors start domesticating livestock, tilling fields and forming cities?
Of those questions, researching ancient cities is probably the easiest to tackle. So now and again, I pick one that I’ve heard about and look around to see what I can find about it. This time, it’s Babylon.
Babylon was established as a small city in ancient Mesopotamia around 2300 BC. It was built on the banks of the Euphrates River and eventually, these banks were made quite steep, to contain the river’s annual floods. As Babylon grew, so did its importance and influence, until the southern portion of Mesopotamia became known as Babylonia. Its location is now inside Iraq, about 53 miles south of Baghdad.
Despite efforts to contain the river, the Euphrates eventually changed its path, and the western portion of this ancient city is now under that river. It is also difficult to find any traces of the truly ancient portions of the city because; 1) the groundwater table has risen, 2: it underwent several ‘urban renewal’ plans, 3) it was pillaged a few times by invading armies, and 4) it has been mined for building materials.
It is estimated that Babylon was the largest city in the world from about 1770-1670 BC, and again from 612-320 BC. It may have been the first city to reach a population over 200,000. The area it covered may have reached a maximum of 2,200 acres, which would be about 91 people (or more) per acre. I tried to compare that to modern cities, starting with a couple I’ve lived in, but even when I went up to New York City, my math came up with a density of only 44 people per acre. So either Babylon was almost twice as packed with people as New York City, or my math is off tonight.
Babylon is probably best remembered for the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, supposedly built by King Nebuchadnezzar (604-562 BC) to appease his home-sick wife, and which may or may not have actually existed, or might have been located in another city.
Well, that was kind of disappointing. Most of what I found was ruler’s names, dates of battles, and so on… the kind of stuff one gets from history classes, but which doesn’t tell you anything about the people. What kind of businesses existed in this metropolis? Where did they get their food? What were the houses like? For instance, did the houses have doorways similar to what we use now, or did one enter them through a trap-door in the roof, like the Pueblo Indians? These are the kind of questions I would like answered.
Sometimes, I use bits and pieces from this kind of research to create different habits or a different ‘society’ for my stories. I don’t get that kind of springboard from names and dates, I get it from the daily lives of normal people.

What about you? Do you have anything about Babylon or some other ancient city that you would like to know?