What do cement and tortillas have in common?

Answer: The ancient Maya used lime for both.

From Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lime_(material):

  • Lime is a calcium-containing inorganic mineral in which carbonates, oxides, and hydroxides predominate. In the strict sense of the term, lime is calcium oxide or calcium hydroxide. It is also the name of the natural mineral (native lime) CaO which occurs as a product of coal seam fires and in altered limestone xenoliths in volcanic ejecta. The word lime originates with its earliest use as building mortar and has the sense of sticking or adhering.
  • These materials are still used in large quantities as building and engineering materials (including limestone products, cement, concrete, and mortar), as chemical feedstocks, and for sugar refining, among other uses. Lime industries and the use of many of the resulting products date from prehistoric times in both the Old World and the New World. Lime is used extensively for wastewater treatment with ferrous sulfate.

How do we obtain lime?  Start with limestone and add some heat:

  • Limestone is calcium carbonate which breaks down with heat.
  • Limestone + heat = Lime + carbon dioxide (or, for the chemists out there: CaCO3 + heat -> CaO + CO)
  • Note: CaO is called quicklime.

The process can be a simple as adding layers of limestone and firewood to a pit and burning it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2JCoe0GRpg

Man standing in lime pit

Here, the “kiln” pit is the size of a man

A smaller scale example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r39dvtQBs44

Small fireplace used to burn limestone

Here the “kiln” is a bit smaller than in the previous example

Note that in both videos, the chunks of limestone are added to water after being heated. This is because CaO is not stable and, over time, it will revert to CaCO3.

In order to stabilize the quicklime/CaO, “slake” it with just enough water to form calcium hydroxide or slaked lime:

  • CaO + H2O -> Ca(OH)2 (note: this releases heat!)
  • Both CaO and Ca(OH)2 are in the form of a white powder (once it is crushed)
  • Note: slaking (a geological term) is the process in which earth materials disintegrate and crumble when exposed to moisture.

The lime, in the form of Ca(OH)2, can now be used to make cement, plaster/mortar, or concrete.

A demonstration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfmRKjIJmOQ where the cement was prepared in the following way:

  • Sand / Silt was collected from the river and drained of water.
  • The quicklime previously fired was crushed into half a pea-sized pieces (in this case, skipping the slaking step…but using the material immediately) and added to the sand at a ratio of 1:2 and mixed thoroughly.
  • Then water was added to allow the chemical reaction to begin and added throughout mixing as water escaped as steam.
Construction of clay wall using lime cement

Lime cement used to join clay bricks

A comprehensive explanation of lime used as plaster/mortar, cement, and concrete:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i97FZevqcPw&t=208s

The ancient Maya used the slaked lime to both join rocks and plaster a finished wall, in order to build their massive cities.

Thousand year old plaster and mortar

Original stonework and plaster in a protected section of a ruin (Dzibilchaltun, in northern Yucatan).

Now let’s look at cooking maize.

Plain cooked maize kernels are deficient in niacin. But cooking them with lime (in a process called “nixtamalization”) enables more of the maize’s nutrients to be available to our bodies.

From Wikipedia:

The nixtamalization process was very important in the early Mesoamerican diet, as unprocessed maize is deficient in free niacin. A population that depends on untreated maize as a staple food risks malnourishment and is more likely to develop deficiency diseases such as pellagra, niacin deficiency, or kwashiorkor, the absence of certain amino acids that maize is deficient in. Maize cooked with lime or other alkali provided niacin to Mesoamericans. Beans provided the otherwise missing amino acids required to balance maize for complete protein.

Also from Wikipedia:

The ancient process of nixtamalization was first developed in Mesoamerica, where maize was originally cultivated. There is no precise date when the technology was developed, but the earliest evidence of nixtamalization is found in Guatemala’s southern coast, with equipment dating from 1200–1500 BC.

Video about nixtamalization: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TIs3gjOPevw

Maize kernels before heating in limewater

Maize kernels before heating in limewater

See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nixtamalization

Take-a-way: The ancient Maya were both

  • accomplished engineers
  • culinary chemists!

Which should not be a surprise given that they had larger populations and larger cities than Europe before and during the Middle Ages.

And don’t forget the ancient Maya had a “zero” in their number system (more on that later).

Questions? Thoughts? Corrections? Please email me at walt@waltsocha.com

Contact: Monastery North of Ros’s Farmstead

While writing “Contact,” I had a scene in which a couple of my (not-so-nice) characters discussed the acquisition of local “assets” north of Ros’s farmstead (the location of modern-day Dingle, Ireland).

The few farmsteads to the north have been stripped of food and fodder. But even this side will soon be barren unless we obtain more thralls to work the land.

But, from a tour of Ireland, I knew there was a Monastery in the same region, hence I knew I had to add a line to that paragraph:

The few farmsteads to the north have been stripped of food and fodder. Even the small monastery is now barren. But even this side will soon be barren unless we obtain more thralls to work the land.

So what did/does this Monastery look like? Here is an encompassing view showing the surviving church:

Gallarus Oratory

Monastery North of Ros’s Farmstead

No doubt, the stone church was surrounded by less permanent structures such as residences, cattle pens, storage buildings (made of wattle and daub), and fencing.

It’s quite interesting that the church’s door and the only window line up:

Monastery

Looking East through Gallarus Oratory

The construction is also of interest. No mortar. Only gravity holds it together:

Gallarus Oratory's Stonework

Morterless Construction

An interior view showing the intersection of ceiling and walls:

Gallarus Oratory's Stonework

Interior View of Stonework

A much more elaborate religious structure stood a few miles away. But as it was built in the 1200’s, it didn’t make it into the story:

Church of Kilmalkedar,

Church near Gallarus Oratory

Collapse: status

I’ve got a rough outline of the main plot. But as I write (I’m only at 9000 words…90,000 is typical book length), all sorts of sub-plots are slipping in.

This is a complicated story. Especially since the Maya civilization is so alien to us/me.

Also,  they had larger cities than Europe in the middles ages. And larger populations. And they are one of the few civilizations that developed (on their own) the concept of “zero” in their number system.

Need a read while waiting for Collapse? May I suggest:

“1632” by Eric Flint

From Amazon:

In Flint’s novel of time travel and alternate history, a six-mile square of West Virginia is tossed back in time and space to Germany in 1632, at the height of the barbaric and devastating Thirty Years’ War.

Oh, and the eBook version is free on Amazon.

“Island In The Sea Of Time” by S. M. Stirling

From Amazon:

It’s spring on Nantucket and everything is perfectly normal, until a sudden storm blankets the entire island. When the weather clears, the island’s inhabitants find that they are no longer in the late twentieth century…but have been transported instead to the Bronze Age! Now they must learn to survive with suspicious, warlike peoples they can barely understand and deal with impending disaster, in the shape of a would-be conqueror from their own time.

Finally, my all time favorite (and rather weird) series:

“The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel” by Jasper Fforde (not a typo!)

From Amazon:

Fans of Douglas Adams and P. G. Wodehouse will love visiting Jasper Fforde’s Great Britain, circa 1985, when time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously: it’s a bibliophile’s dream. England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in a Wordsworth poem and forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense. All this is business as usual for Thursday Next, renowned Special Operative in literary detection. But when someone begins kidnapping characters from works of literature and plucks Jane Eyre from the pages of Brontë’s novel, Thursday is faced with the challenge of her career. Fforde’s ingenious fantasy—enhanced by a Web site that re-creates the world of the novel—unites intrigue with English literature in a delightfully witty mix. Thursday’s zany investigations continue with six more bestselling Thursday Next novels, including One of Our Thursdays is Missing and the upcoming The Woman Who Died A Lot.

Hey, any story in which Jane Eyre is kidnapped from her book has gotta be great…

For questions, comments, and general BS, please drop me a line at walt@waltsocha.com

PS…link to information on the Monastery: http://www.gallarusoratory.ie/

 

Hike through the Caragh Valley

The major location in the second book, Contact, of my Crossover series, takes place in the Caragh Valley in southern Ireland.

I had spent a couple of years peering down from Google’s satellites onto southern Ireland, with a lot of that time making sure I got the geographical details correct.

Caragh Valley

Google Earth view of Caragh Valley relative to Dingle

But a bird’s eye view is not the same as boots on the ground (if you will allow me to mix my cliches..).

In 2015, my wife and I had the privilege of touring Ireland. And spent several nights in Dingle (otherwise know as “Ros’s farmstead” in Contact).

With a free day from the tour, I took a (rather expensive) taxi to the Caragh Valley. Luckily, I took photos as we drove. And one photo was of the side of a rocky hill that eventually became “Bald Hill” (a lookout and then a defensive position in the book):

Bald Hill

Terrain Around Bald Hill

Once there, I hiked 10 miles from the location of Sanctuary up the mountain to “Windy Pass”, and then north along the Caragh Lake to a point where I could see where it drains into the lower Caragh River.

Caragh Valley Route

Map of Hike Through Caragh Valley

Back in the 11th century, oak forests dominated the landscape. But in the 18th, the British effectively clear-cut the island’s oaks to build their navy. So some imagination was required to ‘reforest’ the landscape.

Here’s the location of “Sanctuary,” as seen from across the upper Caragh Rive. Sanctuary is to far right (view from Bed & Breakfast on opposite shore):

Location of Sanctuary

Terrain around Sanctuary

The hike climbed the west mountainside, which affords great views. Here’s looking south:

View of Caragh Valley looking south

View to south with location of Sanctuary

I detoured up the mountain to “Windy Pass,” named for the strong winds that cut through the dip in the mountains. Here’s a view toward “Ros’s farmstead” (present-day Dingle), which lies across the bay:

Windy Pass

View looking west from Windy Pass

While on what-the-Irish-call mountains, I found peat! I had thought it was formed only in low depressions…but apparently, it just needs to be constantly wet. (And, yes, I did get a bit wet on this hike…but, hey, I’m from Oregon…so no problem).

Peat near Windy Pass

Peat near the top of the mountains that form the west side of Caragh Valley

Here’s a view looking north that shows the lower Caragh Lake as well as the small island and protrusion of land that pinches the lake into two parts:

Lower Caragh Lake

Lower Caragh Lake

As I hiked out of the valley, I could see the lower Caragh River (Hey, sorry about all the uppers and lowers when referring to the Caragh River and Caragh Lake!). A bit rocky. No wonder Larry and his crew had to drag the Seabird upriver along several stretches.

Lower Caragh River

Lower Caragh River

Finally, after a long day, I reached the pickup point for the Taxi back to Dingle:

End of hike!

End of hike!

And, yes, Guinness is way better in Ireland…

best regards,
Walt

P.S. If you enjoy my books, please consider posting an honest review on the site from which you bought it. Reviews really help authors sell more books and readers discover new stories. Thank you!

PPS…and if you haven’t read one yet, remember that the eBook version of the first, Conflict, is free at Amazon, Kobo, and Nook.

Cleaved Cliff at the Entrance to Dingle Bay

Navigation was difficult in the pre-radio/satellite age. Landmarks were critical – at least the ones that didn’t move. Luckily, and I didn’t know this until I visited the area a few years ago, the small entrance to (what is now-a-days called) Dingle Bay has a distinctive cleaved cliff on its western side.

Cleaved Cliff Face

Cleave Cliff Face at entrance to Dingle Bay

In the second book in The Crossover Series, “Contact,”, my characters travel to southern Ireland in the year 1076 CE (“common era,” aka AD). This broken cliff face provided a distinctive landmark for Larry and his crew when they returned on their second trip. (Which, for those who haven’t read “Contact” yet, didn’t go so well…).

Here’s an overview of Dingle and the surrounding terrain (Ros was the headman back in 1076 CE):

Dingle Bay area

Dingle Bay showing the town of Dingle, the cleaved cliff, and Ros’s farmstead.

Here is a dramatic (but, unfortunately, out-of-focus) image showing the gap between the mainland and the cleaved cliff edge.

Cleaved Cliff Face

Fuzzy view of the cleaved cliff face

On our recent visit to southern Ireland, my wife and I walked from the town of Dingle (at the north end of the bay) to the entrance at the south end:

View of entrance to Dingle Bay from footpath

Path to entrance of Dingle Bay

The cleaved cliff is just to the right of the tower as seen from this perspective. Note: the tower was built several centuries after the time from of my book. Here’s a view with more detail:

Entrnace to Dingle Bay

View of entrance to Dingle Bay

It was a pleasant walk from Dingle to the bay’s entrance. Except for the land mines:

Yes, we had to clean off the bottom of our shoes…in spite of our care.

 

 

 

Location of “Collapse,” the third book in The Crossover Series

 

The third book in The Crossover Series, “Collapse,” has a location: the northern part of the Yucatan Peninsula. Time is about 1088 CE.

Location of "Collapse," the third book in The Crossover Series

Location of “Collapse,” the third book in The Crossover Series

Isla Cerritos is the location of a trading island administered by the rulers of Chichen Itza. It is the initial contact point between the characters of the Crossover series with the Maya people.

The Maya Civilization is in decline in this century, but it’s still going strong in the north of the Yucatan. Initial contact between the characters of “Collapse” and the Maya people will occur on what is now known as Isla Cerritos, a small island off the north coast of the Yucatan.

Isla Cerritos (a post-conquest name) was a trading center connected to Chichen Itza. Archaeological excavations reveal a largely artificial island with docks, storage buildings, and a pronounced seawall.

It should be interesting developing the setting given all the data/archaeological evidence presently available!

Not available is the name given to Isla Cerritos by the Maya people back in the 11th century. Any suggestions out there?

 

The Location of Haven’s Tower in “Conflict”.

The characters in Conflict, the first book in the Crossover Series, attempted to escape the warlord Tork by fleeing up the Susquehanna River. And decide to make a stand just north of present day Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Their first early defense against any attack by a pursuing Tork was a watchtower.

On the same trip as the one where I took a canoe trip down the Susquehanna, I was able to find the exact location of that tower (built by my characters back in the 11th century). And was thrilled to find that a cemetery occupies the tower’s hill in this century.

Present day tower location

The present day location of Haven’s tower

Not thrilled about the graves, but rather that the hill was cleared of trees and provided an excellent view of what Joe and his band could see in Conflict.

View from Haven's tower

Present day view from Haven’s tower.

Of course, the roads cut into the hills to the south weren’t there back in 1054 AD! For reference, here’s the map found in Conflict:

Location of Haven's tower

Location of the lookout tower relative to Haven

P.S. If you enjoy my books, please consider posting an honest review on the site from which you bought it. Reviews really help authors sell more books and readers discover new stories. Thank you!

The Susquehanna River as the setting for “Conflict”

In novels, the importance of location varies all over the place. Sometimes, it’s just some nondescript neighborhood. Other times, it’s a major “character” (think Middle Earth or Avatar).

Also important, location constrains and/or focuses the storyline. When looking for a setting for Conflict, the first book in the Crossover Series, I was interested in a location that could provide, at least temporarily, safety for my characters. And for their horses.

(Horses? My characters are sent back to 11th century, pre-contact North America. And take horse along with them.)

Other factors in choosing a setting would be setting up the other books in the series and to provide at least some food.

  1. So my constraints in location are:
    1. Safety
    2. Control the horses
    3. Provide later ease in travel (setting up the subsequent books)
    4. Food supply (fish)

So I searched using Google Earth.

I started out up near the Great Lakes, looking for terrain that had valleys, yet was close enough to navigable waterways. Really didn’t find anything.

Somehow, and I can’t remember how, I started looking at coastal waterways. And I found myself “traveling” up the Susquehanna River. When I saw the following image, I knew I found a home for my characters:

Haven's Geological Ridges

Haven’s Geological Ridges from Google Earth

  1. It has it all:
    1. Defensive hills (actually, they’re geological folds)
    2. A valley to hold the horses (actually, two valleys, one for each stallion)
    3. A route (with a few rapids) to the ocean
    4. Fish!

And the Susquehanna is convenient, as my niece lives nearby. So, I visited and took a canoe trip down the river:

Ridges from shore

View of Geological Ridges from shore where we stopped for lunch

 

Notice the hills. They’re really the ends of those geological folds. I have no idea of how the Susquehanna cut through them…but I wouldn’t have wanted to be around when it did!

Rocks in Susquehanna River

Navigating the rocks in the Susquehanna River

Very Shallow. Here’s my wife and niece (you may have to squint to see them) navigating through the broken bones of the geological folds that still remain in the river.

And that’s how the Susquehanna became the setting for my first book.

* * *

The first book in the Crossover Series, Conflict, remains free as an eBook at:
Amazon
Kobo
Nook

The second book, Contact, will be out on July 16th!

To stay updated, sign up for my newsletter at www.waltsocha.com

Any questions, thoughts, or comments? Contact me at walt@waltsocha.com

 

Primitive Skills “Super” Glue

Run out of glue in the wilderness?

So many things are taken for granted in our consumer society. If you need something, simply buy a product (or app) for that.

So what about glue?

I was making a prop for my book’s cover and found myself needing an adhesive. The prop? A obsidian studded war club (see the first chapter of my forthcoming novel).

The club is a scrap 4×4. The obsidian I had laying around (from my knapping days). But how to attach the obsidian to/into the wood? I could go to the hardware store. Or I could do it the (real) old-fashion way.

I looked up my Primitive Skills notes from an Earthwalk Northwest class I took (a long time ago in a world far, far away). Here’s the recipe/process:

  1. Take tree sap…some nice sticky sap from an evergreen.
  2. Powder up so charcoal…found in our fireplace.
  3. Mix together…maybe 4 parts sap to 3 parts powdered charcoal.
  4. Heat (here I cheated…heated in a old cat food can on a backpacking stove…my wife wouldn’t let me do so on our kitchen stove).
  5. Once heated, a coated the two pieces you want to join and press together.
  6. Note: it’s heat sensitive…to “disassemble,” just heat.

Here’s some images:

Making the club (I cheated…used a viking type ax):

Carving a club

Carving a club

Chiseling the slot (cheated again):

Carving slots

Carving slots for the obsidian flakes

Preparing the sap and charcoal:

Preparing sap and charcoal

Preparing the sap and the charcoal

Gluing the obsidian edge into the club:

Gluing the Obsidian into the club

Gluing the obsidian chips into the slots

Finished product:

obsidian studded club

Obsidian studded club

So are you ready to make a batch of glue while lost in the wilderness?

Celestial Navigation Part Two: Longitude (how far east or west)

To determine position on the open seas, one need to measure the Latitude (north and south) and Longitude (degrees east and west). But longitude is a more difficult task.

Quick review:

  • Latitude: how far north or south, referenced to the equator (halfway between the north and south poles).
  • Longitude: how far east or west from some agreed upon position (now-a-days pinned to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England).
Latitude and Longitude from Wikipedia

Latitude and Longitude from Wikipedia

From Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geographic_coordinate_system)

While it is possible to determine the longitude by observing the stars (or even the moons of Jupiter), these measurement require a degree of accuracy impossible on the rolling deck of a ship at sea.

A solution to this problem is the use of accurate timepieces.

  • …Two observers note the time when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky
  • …The difference in time is directly related to the angle between the two observers on the surface of the earth
  • …24 hours = 360 degrees
  • …Each hour of difference = 15 degrees
  • …The angle between the position of the two observers can be use to determine distance
  • …Each degree = (circumference of the earth)/(360 degrees) = 69.2 miles where the circumference = 24900 miles.
  • …Using Nautical miles, each degree = (21639 nautical miles)/(360 degrees) = 60 nautical miles
  • …So that each minute of angle (60 minutes to a degree) = 1 nautical mile
  • …So for each hour of difference between the two observers, they are 60 nautical miles apart (or 69.2 land miles).
  • Easy. Right? Well, it’s only easy if the two observers are using clocks that have been synchronized and keep accurate time.

Today, any pair of inexpensive wristwatches would suffice. However, not until the eighteenth century, could such accurate clocks be constructed.

Chronometer

John Harrison’s first chronometer

Prior to the 18th Century, navigators could determine latitude (distance north or south) but could only guess their east-west position by dead reckoning (estimating the speed of their ship, estimate of the direction of travel, and estimating their time duration). Hence the name “dead” reckoning.

In my time-travel, alternative history novels, common wristwatches become a highly valued navigational aid. (In your story, make sure they run on internal springs and not batteries!).

The tale of John Harrison’s construction of an accurate chronometer in the 18th Century is well told in “Longitude” by Dava Sobel.

Celestial Navigation Part One: Latitude

To determine position on the open seas, one need to measure the Latitude (north and south) and Longitude (degrees east and west).

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.48.47 PM

From Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geographic_coordinate_system)

To determine distances position north and south, one needs three things: a tool to measure the angle between the horizon and the max altitude of the sun, the date, and charts with the latitude as a function of the sun’s maximum altitude.

The measurement tool can be as simple as an outstretched hand or as complicated as a sextant. From Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celestial_navigation): Accurate angle measurement evolved over the years. One simple method is to hold the hand above the horizon with your arm stretched out. The width of the little finger is an angle just over 1.5 degrees elevation at extended arms length and can be used to estimate the elevation of the sun from the horizon plane and therefore estimate the time till sunset.

The need for more accurate measurements led to the development of a number of increasingly accurate instruments, including the kamal, astrolabe, octant and sextant. The sextant and octant are most accurate because they measure angles from the horizon, eliminating errors caused by the placement of an instrument’s pointers, and because their dual mirror system cancels relative motions of the instrument, showing a steady view of the object and horizon.

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.42.58 PMFrom http://blogs.southcoasttoday.com/numbers/2015/03/02/where-are-we-look-at-the-stars/

The date can just be an accepted calendar.

The charts (using the same calendar) must be generated by hand using pre-determined latitude positions. For example, using Reykjavik (Iceland) which is located at 64 degrees North, one can generate the following data (by taking measurements throughout the year):

Latitude (degrees)dateMax Sun Altitude
64January 1st3.2
64February 1st9.92
64March 1st18.8
64April 1st30.9
64May 1st41.3
64June 1st48.2
64July 1st49.1
64August 1st43.8
64September 1st34.0
64October 1st22.6
64November 1st11.4
64December 1st4.3

To complete the chart, one needs more dates (which I have avoided here for simplicity) and the angles at different Latitudes (here I just added three, again for simplicity) to obtain:

DateMax Sun Altitude at
Latitude = 44 degrees
Max Sun Altitude at
Latitude = 54 degrees
Max Sun Altitude at
Latitude = 64 degrees
January 1st23.9 13.1 3.2
February 1st28.918.98.9
March 1st38.828.818.8
April 1st50.940.930.9
May 1st61.351.341.3
June 1st68.258.248.2
July 1st69.059.149.1
August 1st63.853.843.8
September 1st54.044.034.0
October 1st42.513.13.2
November 1st31.321.411.4
December 1st24.114.14.3

Obviously, more intermediate dates and latitudes are necessary. These would fill a very large atlas (think of the number of data points for 365 days and 180 degrees!).

The above date collected from this Navy site: http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/AltAz.php

So, if you are sailing in a Viking ship (as my characters do in my second book which will be published in late 2016), you need to monitor the altitude of the sun above the horizon. Take several readings during the noon hours, chose the largest value and check that value in your atlas. If the maximum value is 49 degrees and the date is August 15th, the latitude is approximately 58.8 degrees from the above table. If you are sailing to Reykjavik, you better turn North a bit as the latitude of Reykjavik is 64 degrees.

How far east and west are you? I’ll cover longitude in my next post.