Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Long Lost City

There are lots of stories about lost cities. I like to read about them after the archeologists have had some time to dig them up. So this time, I went out looking for what was known about Mohenjo-Daro.

This city was founded around 2500 BC in what is now Pakistan, and was one of the largest cities of the ancient Indus Valley civilization. But that civilization declined, and the city was abandoned sometime during the 19th century BC. It was discovered in the 1920s, so I figure they’ve had time to find some interesting tidbits about who lived there. Let’s see what they’ve found.

Mohenjo-Daro is what it is called now, and that either means “Mound of Dead Men” or “Mound of Mohan”, where Mohan is apparently another name for Krishna. Examination of a city seal found during excavation suggests the city’s name was originally Kukkutarma, the “City of the Cockerel”. It is possible that cock-fighting was a ritual and religious activity here, with chickens bred and raised for that purpose, rather than as food. This city may also be where chicken domestication began, and was then introduced to the rest of the world.

Whatever it was called at the time, the city was built on a ridge between 2 rivers. It was an advanced city, with sophisticated civil engineering and urban development. It was one of the known merchant cities of the Indus Valley civilization.

Mohenjo-Daro was built on a grid pattern, with buildings made of fired bricks, sun-dried mud bricks, and wooden superstructures. One estimate of its maximum population is 40,000 people. It covered about 300 hectares, which is a little more than 741 acres.

The city had 2 sections: the Citidel and the Lower City. The Citidel was built on a 39-foot-tall mound made of mud bricks. It included baths, a residential structure to house 5,000 people, and 2 large assembly areas. The city as a whole had a central market with a big well. Households got their water from smaller wells scattered around town. Waste water flowed into covered drains that lined the major streets. Some houses had their own room set aside for bathing, and 1 even had a furnace to heat bath water! Almost every house had an inner courtyard that included a door to a side street. Some houses were 2 stories tall.

One archeologist found a large building that he thought looked like a place to store grain, calling it The Great Granary. A later archeologist pointed out there was no indication of grain being stored there, and he referred to it as a Great Hall of Unknown Function. Not far away is a large and elaborate bath, waterproofed with a lining of bitumen, which may have been used for religious purification. The city also included “College Hall”, 78 rooms in several buildings that may have been priestly residences.

The city had no walls surrounding it, only guard towers on the west and defensive fortifications on the south. Likewise, no weapons have been found there. It was destroyed 8 times, probably by floods. Each time, it was rebuilt directly on top of the previous city.

Artifacts they found include standing and sitting figures, copper and stone tools, balance scales and their weights, gold and jasper jewelry, beads of ivory, lapis, carnelian and gold, and children’s toys. One bronze figurine depicts a young girl dancing. Since it was bronze, the Indus Valley people knew how to blend metals, casting and other methods of using metal. It also shows that entertainment – such as dancing – was important to them. One of the toys was a cart pulled by oxen, so they did use wheels.

What hasn’t been found is any obvious palace or place of government, although it is suspected that Mohenjo-daro was an administrative center of the Indus Valley civilization. The many baths and grid structure of the streets have implied to some that the culture was more interested in order and cleanliness than they were in rulers.

This is the kind of information I like. I can almost see the city and hear the people living their lives.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Humanoid Robots

On Star Trek; Next Generation, Data was a humanoid robot, right? Actually, no, he’s an android, a robot built to look human. Humanoid robots resemble humans, and sometimes, only part of a human, like from the waist up. C3PO is a humanoid robot.

Building humanoid robots is a circle of learning. In order to build a walking robot, for instance, scientists had to figure out – in broad terms – how humans do it. Once a robot could do it, they studied its movements, learning more about how humans do it, and how to improve the robot’s performance. This has led to better prosthetics for humans, including powered leg prosthetics, ankle orthosis, and biological realistic prosthetics.

Theoretically, humanoid robots can be programed to perform many jobs that humans do, using the same tools humans use. Realistically, at this point, they are more specialized. Some are entertainers, others might be assistants for the sick and elderly. Wikipedia had photos of some of these specialty robots:

Topio is a Vietnamese ping pong playing robot that is 6’2” and 264 pounds.

Nao (pronounced Now) is French, and originally played soccer, but moved on to universities to assist with education and research. As of 2015, some 5,000 units of Nao were in over 50 countries. One Nao can dance, another performs stand-up comedy. The University of Tokyo bought 30, intending to train them to be lab assistants. (I don’t know how well that did or did not go.) At some point, the company was sold and Nao became Japanese. They have been used to help teach autistic children, train ISS crews, and assist the elderly. The most interesting item I found was that in a philosophical experiment, Nao robots were shown to have a basic sense of self-awareness. It is just shy of 2 feet tall, and weighs less than 10 pounds.

Enon, from Japan, was designed to be a personal assistant, and has no legs, but rolls along, so the bottom half looks something like a long skirt. It is self-guided, has limited speech identification (and production), and can carry approximately 1 pound in its arms. I found no information on its size, but the photo I saw indicated it was approximately half as tall as the man next to it.

The robots are coming! The robots are- Well, they’re already here. But they aren’t anywhere near as sophisticated as Data. If you buy one that plays soccer, but then want it to dust the living room, you’d probably have to completely reprogram it, maybe change out the arms, beef up the servo motors, and install more sensors.

Oh, never mind. It’s easier to do the dusting myself.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Hatra in History

As I put together my list of things to research for blogs (and my own edification), I put several of them in line to be done ‘soon’. I thought I had a fairly random method of choosing what to slap on that ‘soon’ list, yet here we are, looking (yet again) at what little is known about an ancient city.

Hatra was founded in the 2nd or 3rd century BC by the Seleucid Empire, which was established by a group of Greeks. But Hatra wasn’t in Greece, it was located in the northern part of modern Iraq. It was captured by the Parthian Empire (based in ancient Iran) probably in the 1st century AD, and it then thrived as a religious and trading center. As an important fortified frontier city, Hatra resisted repeated attacks by the Roman Empire and others, but fell in 241 AD to invading Iranians.

Hatra had more than 160 towers and two walls - inner and outer - that circled an area 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) in diameter. It was a religious center, but it didn’t seem to care what god people wanted to worship; it adopted them all. The major temples were gathered together over 1.2 hectares in the middle of the city, dominated by The Great Temple, which at one time rose 30 meters (100 feet) into the air.

For many centuries, the Hatra ruins were the best preserved example of a Parthian city. Unfortunately, in2015 it was reported that ISIL was destroying the ruins. I did not find any report about how much – if any – of it might remain.

I did see some lovely pictures of the ruins, and they were impressive. I also found a list of rulers for this city, but I didn’t care about that. Archeologists studied the site at various times during the 20th century, and there was some effort to preserve the site. But I have no clue about the topography of the city’s location, no idea where the people got their water and food, what they ate or wore. The only way I could possibly ‘use’ this information in a story would be as the ruins that Hatra has been for so long. And that seems like a crying shame.