Ancient Underground Cities

derinkuyu_graphicThe Cappadocia region of central Anatolia in Turkey earned a World Heritage site designation some time ago for its underground cities. They’ve been there for millennia, but most were forgotten when they were no longer needed for protection from invaders. In 1963, Derinkuyu became a popular tourist destination shortly after a man discovered a man-made passageway linked to subterranean tunnels while renovating his home.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeyTreasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure set in the third century. Older and more mysterious than ancient Egypt, the strange kingdom of Dodrazeb ignites a Persian warrior’s curiosity when he leads an army to conquer it. Mesmerized by Dodrazeb’s puzzles, the warrior is determined to peel back its layers of secrets as a desperate princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What have they been hiding for thousands of years? Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


Cappadocia - Kaymakli Underground CityIn 2013, a public urban building project unearthed a complex of hand-carved rooms and tunnels beneath a Byzantine-era hilltop castle. The newer find in Nevşehir Province includes artifacts and hidden rooms interconnected by miles of tunnels that may date to 3,000 BCE. The new site appears to be even larger than Derinkuyu, an impressive 18-story underground city that once housed around 20,000 people. Millions of years ago, the region was buried under layer upon layer of volcanic ash. The hardened volcanic rock, known as “tuff,” provided a natural building material that was easy to work with. Because the caves are carved from natural rock, archaeologists can’t date their first use, but most agree that the Anatolian Hittites are the original builders.

derinkuyu-underground-city-roomWhen the region’s ancient inhabitants retreated to their subterranean homes, everyday life continued as usual. They carved out sprawling underground cities that featured apartments, stables, worship centers, ventilation shafts, tombs, water tanks, kitchens, and communal rooms. Some contained functional freshwater wells and stone doors for added protection. There are also arsenals for storing weapons, wineries, chapels, schoolrooms, staircases, and bezirhane—linseed presses for producing lamp oil to light the underground city. Hidden escape routes offered residents a last chance for a getaway.

1_460973772cappadocia-adapt-1900-1Over time, the need for hidden shelter varied. When dangerous invaders threatened, Cappadocians went underground, blocked the access tunnels with stone doors, and sealed themselves in with livestock and supplies until the threat passed. They lived comfortably in the year-round consistent temperature of 55 degrees Fahrenheit. In peacetime, people returned to building and living on the surface, using the subterranean city as cold storage for food and stables for livestock.

Sources

http://www.history.com/news/vast-underground-city-found-in-turkey-may-be-one-of-the-worlds-largest

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/03/150325-underground-city-cappadocia-turkey-archaeology/

http://thehigherlearning.com/2014/08/25/a-man-just-discovered-an-ancient-underground-city-underneath-his-house/

http://sometimes-interesting.com/2014/05/09/derinkuyu-the-underground-cities-of-cappadocia/

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Ancient Persians Invented Pizza

How do you define “pizza”? Today’s modern version is basically a flat, baked bread crust covered with tomato sauce and cheese and a range of toppings from meats to vegetables to fruits. Is it still pizza if you take away the tomato sauce? Maybe…


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeyTreasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure set in the third century. Older and more mysterious than ancient Egypt, the strange kingdom of Dodrazeb ignites a Persian warrior’s curiosity when he leads an army to conquer it. Mesmerized by Dodrazeb’s puzzles, the warrior is determined to peel back its layers of secrets as a desperate princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What have they been hiding for thousands of years? Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


pepperoni-pizzaThe fact is, flat bread served with toppings has been around for millennia. The addition of tomato sauce is a modern variation. For this discussion, let’s broadly define pizza—or the ancient ancestor of modern-day pizza—as a flat bread with toppings. Who invented that? Ancient Persians, that’s who!

shieldThat’s right, way back in the sixth century BCE, warriors in the armies of Persian King Darius I turned their battle shields horizontal and heated them to bake flat bread that they then covered in cheese and dates. “But,” I can hear you mumbling, “dates don’t belong on pizza! Dates are a weird fruit that come from palm trees. Anything with dates on it can’t be pizza!” Oh, really? Personally, I don’t think pineapple—ewww!—should ever be considered a pizza topping, even in an emergency. Pineapples are a weird fruit native to South America that were spread to Europe by Spanish explorers in the 1500’s. Anyway, my point is that particular toppings are a matter of taste.

pizza-1Most people assume the Romans must have invented pizza because the modern version we crave came from Italy. Remember Persian King Darius I and his troops who used their shields to make that ancient version of pizza? Generally speaking, soldiers won’t pass up an opportunity to devour a good, hot meal back at camp after a long, hard day of slicing and dicing the enemy. Well, the Persian Empire didn’t get to be the Persian Empire without fighting a lot of wars with its neighbors, and even some of the Greek city-states were Persia’s allies when they weren’t its enemies. So it’s easy to understand how the idea of cooking bread, cheese, and toppings was spread through the region by soldiers.

4791207-9790062099-pizzaI hear you saying, “But pizza is Italian!” Yes, the Romans were great assimilators. When they saw something they liked, they replicated it and incorporated it into their own culture, just like every culture since the dawn of mankind. However, it takes some things longer to be accepted than others. Take tomatoes, a somewhat weird fruit, by the way, discovered in the Americas. Tomatoes were introduced to Italy in the 16th century, but were widely thought to be poisonous. In fact, when highly acidic tomatoes were served on pewter plates used by many wealthier Europeans, lead would leach from the plate into their food. Rich Europeans died from lead poisoning, but the tomatoes were blamed. Poor Italian folk who fed their families with basic staples such as flour, olive oil, lard, cheese, and herbs couldn’t afford pewter plates, but they ate tomatoes with no deadly consequences. What we immediately recognize today as a pizza originated in Naples, Italy as a cheap meal for the lower classes.

cheese-pizzaSo there you have it. Poor Italians added a layer of tomato sauce to the bread before covering it with mozzarella cheese and other toppings. By the way, real mozzarella cheese was originally made from the milk of water buffalo. Water buffalo were brought to Italy by Hannibal, or maybe they came with Arab invaders, or perhaps were imported from India…

Sources:

http://www.passion-4-pizza.com/history_of_pizza.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_pizza
http://iml.jou.ufl.edu/projects/Spring04/Lipari/history.htm
https://whatscookingamerica.net/History/Pizza/PizzaHistory.htm
http://blog.foodydirect.com/index.php/really-invented-pizza-anyway/
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/why-the-tomato-was-feared-in-europe-for-more-than-200-years-863735/?no-ist
http://saputo.ca/FoodieLounge/Detail.aspx?id=765

The Origin Key: Read a FREE Excerpt

Read a free excerpt of my sword-and-science fantasy adventure! Happy reading!

logo-stackedTreasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key, is a sword-and-science fantasy adventure set in the third-century. While on a quest to avenge a horrific attack on his father the king, a Persian warrior discovers a strange kingdom isolated from the rest of the world. He thinks the villain is hiding there, but a sly princess is determined to sabotage the Persians to protect her kingdom’s ancient secrets. What is she so desperate to keep hidden?  Get your copy on Amazon.com!

Readers praise Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key

  • OriginKeyCover_lo-res“Filled with wonderful imagery, distinct characters and adventurous plot points that kept me turning the page. I recommend this book to anyone that enjoys a compelling story, and am looking forward to whatever’s next from this first-time author.”
  • “Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key by Susan McPhail is a smart, intriguing tale that seamlessly melds historical fiction, fantasy, and suspense… Highly recommended for fans of history, fantasy, and mystery stories.”
  • “My ONLY criticism is that I was left wanting more. Luckily McPhail left the tale so it can be taken up again. Soon, I hope.”
  • “McPhail paints vivid pictures of the world she’s created and engages all of the readers senses in the story.”
  • Very descriptive. I could easily imagine being in some of the battles! I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a great storyteller!”
  • More books, please.”
  • WOW! Add Susan McPhail to your must-watch writer list!”
  • “This book is definitively the best third-century Persian sword-and-science novel I’ve ever read!

Authors praise Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key

  • “A smart, thrilling mix of history and fantasy. S.D. McPhail is definitely an author to watch.
    – Brian Niemeier, author of Campbell-nominated Nethereal and Dragon Award-winning Souldancer
     
  • “Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a stunning debut novel. McPhail’s creation is packed with tension and excitement, from the political machinations of the empire to the almost Atlantean history of Dodrazeb and mythical Anutupi. The imagery is enchanting, but the adventure is mesmerizing.
     Ashley Chappell-Peeples, author of  Of War and Taters and the Dreams of Chaos series

Ancient Urkesh: The Real Thing

I write historical fantasy adventure, but the archaeologists working to study and preserve ancient sites are the true heroes. Unique and priceless sites like Urkesh are in danger of being destroyed because of war and political turmoil before we can learn about our ancient ancestors and the civilizations they built.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeySet in the third century, Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure. A Persian warrior’s curiosity is ignited when he leads an invasion into Dodrazeb, a strange isolated kingdom that possesses incredible technology. Ancient Dodrazeb’s puzzling choice to hide from the world draws the warrior deeper into layers of mysteries as its princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What are the Dodrazebbians so desperate to keep hidden? Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


excavation-at-urkesh

Ancient city of Urkesh, home to the Hurrian culture.

One of the most ancient cities known to exist on earth is Urkesh. Its exact location was a mystery until the 1990s when, after ten years of painstaking excavations, archaeologists identified Tel Mozan in northern Syria near the borders of Turkey and Iran as Urkesh. The capital city of the Hurrians, it flourished between 4000 and 1300 BCE. It initially became powerful because of its location at the intersection of major trade routes as well as its control of valuable copper deposits.

staircase-at-urkesh-dig

Intact stone stairway at Urkesh.

Ruins of monumental public buildings, including a large temple and a palace, have been found. The architecture is not only mud-brick construction, but also rare stone structures. Archaeologists have discovered remains of an open plaza, a monumental flight of stairs, and a deep underground shaft related to religious rituals known as the “Passage to the Netherworld.” Urkesh dominated the ancient skyline at the top of a built-up terrace that rivaled nearby mountains.

lion-stonetablet-text-in-hurrian

Lion and stone tablet inscribed with Hurrian language.

Very little was known about the Hurrians before Urkesh was positively identified. There may not have been many Hurrian cities in what is present-day southern Syria, but their civilization influenced the entire Middle East. They were a major influence on Mesopotamia to the south and cultures such as the Hittites as cities were first developing in that region. Unlike the centralized political structures of ancient Assyria and Egypt, Hurrian urban culture seems to have been more feudal in organization, possibly limiting the development of large palace or temple complexes.

The unique Hurrian language is unlike any other known ancient language. Historians believe that the speakers of this language originally came from the Armenian Highlands and spread over southeast Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia at the beginning of the second millennium BCE.

hurrian-incense-container

Hurrian incense container.

Accomplished ceramists, Hurrian pottery was highly valued in distant Egypt. Khabur ware and Nuzi ware are two types of wheel-made pottery used by the Hurrians. Khabur ware is characterized by reddish painted lines with a geometric triangular pattern and dots, while Nuzi ware has very distinctive forms, and are painted in brown or black.

Also known for achievements in metallurgy, Hurrians traded copper south to Mesopotamia from the highlands of Anatolia. The Khabur Valley had a central position in the metal trade, and copper, silver and even tin were accessible from Hurrian-dominated countries in the Anatolian highland. Among the few surviving examples of Hurrian metal work, some small fine bronze lion figurines were discovered at Urkesh.

Sadly, the Syrian civil war has disrupted the fascinating archaeological activities at Urkesh and endangered future discoveries about the Hurrian culture. The site lies close to the Turkish border, and is now protected by Kurdish troops and a team of local workers.

paved-floor-beehive-oven-urkesh

4,000 year-old bakery with paved floor and “beehive” oven.

Sources:

http://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-places-africa/rediscovery-urkesh-forgotten-city-hurrians-003287
http://www.urkesh.org/
http://www.historyfiles.co.uk/KingListsMiddEast/AnatoliaHurrians.htm
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/06/150604-urkesh-syria-mozan-buccellati-archaeology/
http://ancients-bg.com/urkesh-the-forgotten-city-of-the-mysterious-hurrian-civilization/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurrians

Oooh! (BOOM!) Ahhh! The History of Fireworks

Fireworks1

It’s common knowledge that fireworks originated in China, but like many marvelous inventions, it was an accidental discovery. History tells us that alchemists attempting to develop an elixir for immortality tried a recipe of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate (saltpeter). What they got was gunpowder and soon firecrackers were in huge demand as their loud bangs were used to scare away evil spirits.

Fireworks7Just as in modern times, military engineers saw a practical use for the substance’s explosive properties. Stuffing gunpowder into bamboo tubes was just the first step. The first documented use of gunpowder in a weapon of war is a catapult in the year 1046. Imagine the numerous trials and failures that eventually led to enough success that someone proudly recorded it for posterity!

What you learned in elementary school about Marco Polo bringing fireworks to Europe from his travels in 1295 is true. But Europeans had already experienced gunpowder weaponry during the Crusades. China tried to keep the technology within its own borders, but the formula for gunpowder had been carried to the Middle East by caravans traversing the Silk Road.

Fireworks4By the 15th century, Italians had refined methods for mixing chemicals and shaping aerial shells to produce specific shapes and colors of pyrotechnics. Ambitious displays lighting up the night sky were incorporated into religious and public celebrations all across Europe. For instance, the marriage of England’s Henry VII and Elizabeth Plantagenet in 1486 saw an elaborate presentation of pyrotechnic prowess.

The rise of fireworks as entertainment coincided with the end of medieval warfare. The same science that sent colorful explosions into the air created advances in ballistic weaponry; metal armor could be punctured by projectiles and fortified walls could be demolished from a distance.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeySet in the third century, Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure. A Persian warrior’s curiosity is ignited when he leads an invasion into Dodrazeb, a strange isolated kingdom that possesses incredible technology. Ancient Dodrazeb’s puzzling choice to hide from the world draws the warrior deeper into layers of mysteries as its princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What are the Dodrazebbians so desperate to keep hidden? Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


Fireworks8Varieties of Fireworks

Stars: The small bits of explosive that scatter across the sky when fireworks explode
Peony: An explosion of stars in a radial pattern
Dahlia: Like a Peony, but with fewer and larger stars
Chrysanthemum: Like a Peony that leaves a trail of glowing particles as it falls
Crossette: A Chrysanthemum with stars that explode as smaller pieces, creating branches across the sky
Willow: Like a Crossette, but the glowing limbs must stay in the sky for 10 seconds or more
Palm: Like a Willow, but with slower-moving, slower-burning stars, resembling the limbs of a palm tree
Spider: Like the Chrysanthemum, but with longer-burning, droopy tails (like a spider’s leg)
Fish: Explodes into particles that wriggle like fish across the sky.
Rings: From a spherical shell, explosions that spread like Saturn’s rings
Time rain: Big, slow-burning stars that leave trails of sizzling, sparkling stars
Multi-break/Bouquet shells: A big shell containing smaller shells scattered by the first burst

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fireworks

http://www.ch.ic.ac.uk/local/projects/gondhia/history.html

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/14-fun-facts-about-fireworks-180951957/?no-ist

The Origin Key Book Trailer

My first novel, for sale on Amazon.com, has a trailer!

The Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a sword-and-science fantasy adventure like no other. Prince Rasteem, a third-century Persian warrior, discovers an obscure culture that appears to take twenty-first century technology for granted.

OriginKeyCover_lo-res

 

When you publish a book you have to promote it, get the word out, let the world know about it. One way to do this is to blog about it constantly, but that can get boring for both me and my readers. A better way is to create (or let a talented friend create) a book trailer. I can hear you thinking, “What the heck is a book trailer?” Just like a movie trailer, but for a book, it’s a short video that gives you an idea of what the story is about. And here it is!

https://spark.adobe.com/video/Bk2Of-wu/embed

 
Celebrate this milestone with me and support a wonderful local family restaurant at the same time on Friday, August 12. We’ll be at Terranova’s Italian Restaurant in Huntsville from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. enjoying fantastic cuisine and giving away some great prizes.

BookLaunch-POSTER-FINAL_sm

Apparently when you publish a book, people get all inquisitive about your reading habits, likes and dislikes, and even want to know what inspired the story. My publisher and friend Russell Newquist recently interviewed me for his own blog. You can read all three parts of An Interview with S.D. McPhail here: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3. If you have any more questions, just ask in the comments section.

Thank You, Sir Alistair Pilkington

BlueGlasswareCup

Roman Cup made of free-blown glass.

What would life be like without glass? A lot of modern technology—like computers, cameras, and smart phones—depend on it. Decorative or utilitarian, it’s all around us, often right in front of us, and we are accustomed to looking straight through it.

Humans have been using glass since prehistoric times. Obsidian, a type of volcanic glass formed by rapid cooling of viscous lava, has extremely sharp edges, making it ideal for arrowheads, knife blades, and other cutting implements. Before the discovery of a recipe for manmade glass, ancient humans used obsidian to make weapons, tools, and ornaments.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeySet in the third century, Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure. A Persian warrior’s curiosity is ignited when he leads an invasion into Dodrazeb, a strange isolated kingdom that possesses incredible technology. Ancient Dodrazeb’s puzzling choice to hide from the world draws the warrior deeper into layers of mysteries as its princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What are the Dodrazebbians so desperate to keep hidden? Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


GreekAlabastron

Greek container for scented oil made by core-forming.

Basic glass production has not changed much since ancient times. A mixture of silica, soda ash, and lime is heated to extreme temperatures, shaped into almost any form, and then allowed to cool. There is evidence of glassmaking as early as 3500 BCE in Mesopotamia. Beads, likely an accidental byproduct of metalworking, are the earliest known manmade glass objects. A surge in glassmaking technology during the late Bronze Age in Egypt and Western Asia produced decorative vessels of patterned and colored glass. The archaeological record indicates that the method for making glass from raw materials was a closely guarded secret in powerful nations. Outside of the wealthy empires, glass workers had to acquire bars of pre-formed glass to produce wares.

An early glassmaking technique was core forming. Glassmakers wound lengths of hot glass around a core of ceramic-like material to shape the body of the vessel, then added handles and a rim. When the vessel cooled, the core would be removed. Pouring hot glass into a mold is called casting. After the cast glass cooled, grinding and cutting techniques were used to refine and decorate the piece.

GreekWineBowl

Greek wine-drinking bowl.

Pouring molten glass into molds was a slow and unreliable method that kept glass a luxury item for the wealthy. This changed in the 1st century BCE when Syrian and Palestinian workers discovered the art of glass blowing, inflating a glob of molten glass into a bubble at the end of a tube. The glassblower could manipulate the pliable glass into virtually any shape while adding artistic flourishes. The new manufacturing technique transformed glass into a cheap and easily produced material, gradually replacing clay and metal vessels.


James Mongrain’s amazing interpretation of mid 18th century Venetian goblets.

cracked_smartphone

Can someone perfect an unbreakable smartphone screen?

Modern technology has improved glassmaking with the introduction of additives which provide color or opacity, improve quality, durability and other properties. One relatively recent innovation is the “float glass” process, first introduced in 1957 in Great Britain by Sir Alistair Pilkington. Before this method was perfected, it was impossible to create flat sheets of smooth glass with uniform thickness. Screens for laptops, mobile phones, digital cameras, and camcorders are made from float glass.

http://www.historyofglass.com
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_glass
http://www.cmog.org/research/all-about-glass
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Float_glass
https://www.khanacademy.org/partner-content/getty-museum/antiquities/ancient-glassmaking/a/glassmaking-history-and-techniques