history of technology

history of technology

The Iron of Khorsabad

A gate tower six modern stories high with the gate passing through the ground floor
One of the western gates of the city of Bologna, September 2018. Note the put-log holes in the brickwork. Photo by Sean Manning.

Around 1853, gangs of workers under French supervision were excavating Sargon’s palace at Khorsabad, the ancient Dūr-Šarrukin (Fort Sargon). One of the great courts had some long storerooms along one side, and in one which they numbered 86 (or 84), they found marvelous things: “un vèritable mur métallique, occupant tout un côte de la chamber.” The orderly piles of ironware filled a space 5.80 metres wide, 2.60 metres deep and 1.40 metres high: hammers, pick-axes, grappling irons, chains, ploughshares, and fish-shaped iron ingots with a hole through them. The hoard must have weighed more than a hundred tons,* and was so plentiful that it was handed over to local blacksmiths to make sickles, wagon fittings, and other necessary objects. One of them remarked that aside from the famous Persian iron (wootz?) he had never yet worked better metal. Other objects like ploughshares were put back into use by the local farmers and served their purpose. This was all for the best, since most of the artefacts from Khorsabad were sunk by brigands near the Shatt al Arab at Kurnah in 1855 as they were being shipped to Europe. This was the period when the excavators at Susa built themselves a castle to protect themselves and their goods from robbers.

Finds like that were not uncommon in the early days of Assyrian archaeology. At Nimrud, the north end of chamber SW7 contained a mass of rusted scale armour piled 35 cm thick in spots. Groups of rusted-together scales can still be found in museums. Later the graves of three queens rich in ivory, gold, crystal and silver were uncovered at that site: probably Yaba, Banitu, and Atalia who lived in the eighth century BCE and were laid to rest with appropriately gruesome curses upon anyone who violated their chambers. These finds give us another perspective on early iron after looking at the lancehead from Deve Hüyük and the akinakes from the dealer in Iran. By the seventh century BCE, the Assyrians were incredibly rich in iron, and this presupposes a massive industry of charcoal burners and miners and smelters and forgers. So far, the only trace of this is the objects they produced.
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In Praise of Folly

A painting of a fool in red and green mi-parti wheeling a man wearing an extravagant plumed hat in a wheelbarrow
A wheelbarrow painted on the ceiling of the Fembohaus, Nürnberg. Photo by Sean Manning, March 2017.

A few half-timbered houses survived the bombing of Nürnberg, and several of them have become museums. The Fembohaus is dedicated to life in Nürnberg from the 15th to the 18th century, and one of its charming decorations is this painting of a fool driving another fool in a barrow.

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Some thoughts on “GURPS Fourth Edition Low-Tech”

Cover of GURPS 4th Edition Low-Tech illustrated with Greek hoplites in combat, a First Nations man in bearskin cloak standing in front of a fire with a spear, and an eighteenth-century ship firing a broadside

William H. Stoddard, with Peter dell’Orto, Dan Howard, and Matt Riggsby, GURPS Fourth Edition Low-Tech. Steve Jackson Games: Austin, TX, 2010. Link to publishers’ online store.

Its a hard time for small publishers. On November the 12th Steve Jackson Games released its annual Report to the Stakeholders and announced that in a year with their second highest revenues ever they could not afford to print their fully typeset GURPS Discworld. Apparently they have a much harder time selling their roleplaying games than their card and board games. I think that is a shame, because many of their books would be valuable outside the small number of people who play games with the GURPS rules. One of these books is GURPS Fourth Edition Low-Tech.
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