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A world without horses.

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Psycho Wizard, Feb 27, 2018.

  1. Psycho Wizard

    Psycho Wizard Banned

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    AND IT'S A MOSTLY DESERT WORLD!

    AND THERE'S NO HORSES!

    There are beasts of burden, but it has not occurred to the inhabitants of this world attempt to use them as steeds or to pull chariots. Nor would it be effective; as these beasts of burden are only good for pulling carts over long distances. They need little rest, little water and a no great deal of food. However these beasts of burden are fairly dim, not suited for lightning sprints, but rather going the marathon.

    So essentially people in my world... Walk everywhere. Boats and ships sailing across vast seas are recorded in their history, but unfortunately: most of the seas are dried up.

    Now the distances in the "region" that the story centres around is not large, cities and towns aren't a gigantic distance fro each other.

    But let's talk food, commodities.

    Obviously, water is the big one. Thus like in past ages in real world history, a low alcohol beer/ale would be a way of preserving water during droughts, sieges and through travel. But what kind of methods for preserving food, spices and other perishables are there in a low tech, more primitive (Compared to our own) society? Pickling comes to mind, but obviously there must be other methods. There are likely other methods for the kind of travel and conditions I'm talking about...

    Thoughts? Suggestions? Golions?
     
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  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Salt.
    Smoke..

    Drying.

    If there used to be seas, then there ought to be a fair amount of surface salt where they used to be. Smoke requires fire and this is desert, so that is a bit of a problem. Drying should work fine. Lots of meats air dry very nicely.

    Far more problematic are fruits and vegetables. There simply are not many ways of preserving these. Nor do they grow well without water. I'll assume there are at least a few Nile-like rivers around that can serve as the breadbasket for wide regions.
     
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  3. Psycho Wizard

    Psycho Wizard Banned

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    There are Oases and distant, seldom known of one river within this "region", but predominately people have been finding water by... Digging it up.

    So there is agriculture, but it's... More work than usual. Smoking and drying meat didn't even come to mind for me, did think of salt but yea...
     
  4. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Inkling

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    Off the top of my head...hmm

    Dry conditions suggest... well... dehydrating food stuffs. Lots of meat jerky and dehydrated veggies and fruits. Pickling in acids or salts. Cold Smoking is another method, but not as efficient if the region is lacking combustible fuel sources.

    Lots of civilizations developed with beasts of burden but lacked horses to transport individuals. Now, if you're talking about pre-wheel circumstances I'm outta here lol.

    I hate to sound obvious, but... What about mechanical means of transport? Bicycles and pedal-powered rickshaws, etc. Put in enough gears and leverage into a device and literally anything can be moved and transported. Bicycles are still mechanically one of the most efficient modes of human transport ever invented. And, a substitute for a horse in many respects.

    You could get into steam mechanics, too, as very clever systems (like modern boilers and radiators) capture, recover and reuse water. In a closed system where the steam is allowed to cool and condense without escaping to the atmosphere, it's still a viable/responsible way to utilize water in dry regions.

    Pre electric transit systems existed in metropolitan areas. They were street cars pulled on embedded train rails, pulled by beasts of burden. Horses in our history, other beasts in yours.

    Do you want internal combustion engines? They can be powered by steam or indigenous bio fuels. Microwaves and radio waves can combust dissolved gasses in sea water (in an arrid environment, salty condensed evaporated waters might be too saline to drink or irrigate crops, but could be a fuel source with the right application of technology.)

    Also, some arrid regions offer evaporative and condensation properties naturally. Very inspiring if you're looking to capture potable waters. The sun evaporating other liquids than water could provide means to mechanization.

    I'm assuming if they have the technology to drill wells to access ground water, they have the skills to solve food preservation and transportation logistics.
     
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  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    If the seas have dried up, I wonder about readily available ground water. The technology to drill deep implies a whole bunch of other factors.
     
  6. Psycho Wizard

    Psycho Wizard Banned

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    Yea I'm definitely sold on the dehydrated food concept, so I'll have to ponder on and read more into. It's not a pre-wheel civilisation... But it's not at a modern level of technology/science either. Imagine something around the 1500s mark- Minus horses and gun powder, also things like chain or plate mail are so rare... They do not occur within the centre of the story, though they do exist in other foreign lands. Swords are also uncommon, and the primary weapon naturally is... The spear, and a dagger as a side arm.

    A lot of alchemy, rudimentary mechanics/tinkering, medical science, botany, agriculture, magic, etc. They are innovative people, but in different ways to the Renaissance period of our world. Aside from food and water, religion is also the big priority.
     
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  7. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    They would avoid foods that would be problematical in warm/hot conditions.
    There are religious prohibitions on foods like seafood, pork [and others] and on how food is stored/prepared that probably have their roots in food hygiene. I'm sure I can remember reading that trade caravans would bring along flocks of goats [that basically foraged for themselves] and slaughtered them en-route to provide fresh meat.
     
  8. Psycho Wizard

    Psycho Wizard Banned

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    Yeh and they keep the kids confined, so that the goats don't stray away.
     
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  9. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

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    There were seas, but they dried up? Are they in an ice age? Otherwise I can’t think of anything else that could cause that.
     
  10. Yora

    Yora Maester

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    While you can ride on horses, camels, and donkeys, that's not what they were usually used for. Their most important fuction was to carry stuff so that people could walk more easily. The lack of riding animals does not really make overland journeys longer. But when you have to carry all your food and water yourself, reducing the weight of the food as much as possible is of course still a good idea.
     
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  11. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Inkling

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    If the seas and lakes were relatively shallow, and tectonic or terrestrial activity (damming or landslides) happens to cut off a shallow sea from the open ocean, it will probably evaporate over time into brine lakes or salt flats. Climate change or a shift in prevailing winds might signifigantly change weather patterns and annual rainfall. It happened relatively quickly to pre-history peoples living in the Saharra. All that arrid desert used to be marshland. Lakes, rivers, tidal marshes, shallow seas. The salt flats in Utah much the same. In fact, east of the Rockies and huge sections of the Great Plains/ Midwest were once all under water and marshy.

    Even now, many modern areas are drying up and experience significant shifts in rainfall patterns. A lot of ongoing climate conditions are being exacerbated by El Nino and La Nina wind/ocean current patterns.

    If not more gradual cycles of warming and cooling, changing the climate and surface water can be immediately impacted by civilizations. Humans taking out native vegetation (for agriculture and buildings) can radically impact local environment and effect climate. (Ahem, Dust Bowl, anyone? Decades of poor practices and a few oddball storms triggered social, economic and environmental disaster. ) If you rip out native vegetation, it effects soil quality and surface water retention/ runoff. Studies today suggest that heat-island effects from paving over vast swaths of land and modern buildings certainly have negative consequences on micro climates. Heat island effects can happen over plowed, harvested fields and deforrested areas, too.

    Moving to a marginal area (edge of a desert) and a few generations of bad practices can make the desert spread. Overharvesting surface water during the wrong time of year can destroy lake ecology. It doesn't always take a single catastrophe or larger global activity (ice age) to alter the environment. Often times, it's uncountable little actions that add up gradually to disaster or huge irreversible changes.

    The ancient city of Petra is a great example. They engineered their civilization (created an artificial desert oasis) to transport water to the city through miles of aqueducts and pipes. It was all going pretty well for a few hundred years... then an earthquake shifted the surface water supply. After that, a flashflood swept away much of the city that recovered after the earthquake and it was likely abandoned.

    That's why I find coastal deserts to be so interesting. Salt air is harsh, but the humidity in the air can create interesting flora and fauna adapted to condensation as a source of drinking water. Coastal regions can bring in storms and rainfall, but it often floods through a desert vs. soaking in to sustain plants and people long term.

    It'll be interesting to see if places like modern Dubai can engineer and sustain all of their artificial biospheres in the long run. But, they are basically trying to reverse-engineer their coastal desert back into pre-historic marshes/green spaces and shallow seas. Although, they are also building massive desalination facilities to help with this ambition...
     
  12. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

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    Yes, all of this is true. But this didn't make the seas disappear from the world. Water still covers most of the planet. Tectonic activity and the water cycle are zero-sum. If land is created on one border of a tectonic plate, it is destroyed in another. For every huge mountain that is being raised due to tectonic activity, countless others have been eroded to nothing by erosion, a process just as fast as plate tectonics, if not more so. If bodies of water disappear from one area, the water from that body will wind up in another body of water.

    And many more areas are in increased danger of flooding. The warming climate is causing the sea level to rise, as water that was locked up in glaciers and the polar ice cap is being released back into the ocean.

    Okay. I don't disagree with any of this, but these are all localised phenomena. It isn't something that will cause a desert world to form.
     
  13. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Inkling

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    Agreed, but that all depends on what the OP was intending. By 'world', did the OP mean 'planet' or was it localized to 'world' in the micro-sense of culture and geographic location of the narrative?

    Planetary changes in climate happen without human activity for sure. But, if it's a story set in a location (within one lifetime) without well-recorded history or scientific data available for the character, where do you begin to speculate as an author where the water went?

    A desert 'planet' that was always mostly dry (for our purposes, more land mass than available surface water and arrid conditions overall) would be a totally different ball game. That's not really anything I can extrapolate or speculate from.

    If it was a drier world to start with...Maybe it was a freakish "wet weather period" that filled in low lying areas with water for a few centuries or so, and when the desert world went back to normal weather patterns the seas dried up? What would those mechanisms look like?

    The OP mentioned having ocean-going ships and seas/ shorelines receding (evaporating?) in the region (world) in their recorded in history. That could also suggest a slightly more recognizeable condition to Earth in that it had large bodies of water, but has since diminished or left the area relative to the character.

    So, a scenario that suggests that the planet was always on the dry-side since the formation of the planet (simplified as a 'more landmass to water and unhelpful weather' scenario) suggests a very delicate ecological condition for life (as we know it). It's fantasy writing, so maybe water isn't such a catalyst for life.

    If the planet was more or less similar to modern/ancient earth? More saline than fresh water at the surface, more water than land mass, and a diverse ecology/ weather pattern... and now it's all dried up? Hmmm.

    So, we're back to Where did the (surface) water go? You're right. Either water evaporates and is deposited elsewhere through weather patterns, goes below ground and becomes practically inaccessible to people, or gets trapped in icecaps/glaciers. In extreme cases, it can be blasted off the planet into space via meteor impact or other solar system cataclysm and not return to earth.

    I'm guessing it's not likely to be the last scenario, because that would probably cause mass extinction. So... our OP is going to have to decide if it was always a dry, dusty rock spinning in space or if it was a greener world once, but now not so much...

    I could see a unique surface geology being responsible for lack of accumulated surface water. If there's the wrong types of sand, sediment (or lack of) and stone, water would just seep into the ground and keep going. If it gets too deep, it becomes too difficult to access.

    That's why I might write about one region and local climate, but imply that the overall planet is recognizeable to Earth and has a diverse ecological system in operation. Trying to imagine life on an extreme planet (arrid cold/hot, tidally locked planets, planets that never stop raining, tectonically or volcanically in over-drive, etc) is pretty daunting.
     
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  14. Psycho Wizard

    Psycho Wizard Banned

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    Hoobeebloooooos!

    Long story short, the planet was once a diverse collection of environments. Due to abuse of world altering magic and subsequent tampering with nature on their world... Much of it has been devastated, made sterile. One continent is so over populated, that the little resources left are often recycled in disgusting, unsanitary ways and cannibalism is pretty common. These people live in giant metropolises, cities upon cities, built by ancient civilisations of old. Current generations live in the festering corpse of their ancestors empires, leeching of the little that remains... Rather than looking to repair or restore the world around them, they merely consume whatever they can get and fight each other resources. To the people at the top, plagues are seen as a blessing in order to cull the masses (Which are massive), and nearly everyone is a slave to someone else in some degree.

    Where the water from all the seas has gone? A mystery.

    The surviving civilisations have had varying degrees of historical events recorded, much of it is biased towards not how exactly it happened... But who to blame. Magic and over population are the tools in which the world has been largely ruined; but blame has preoccupied people's minds. It's almost their escape from their dire reality.

    Where the story takes place, is different. It's an arid, but relatively fertile land with some desert... Rather than being completely barren, wasteland like most of everywhere else. The three nations/ greater factions of this small, distant region are mostly descended from refugees fleeing the aforementioned rotting carcasses of"Empires". These refugees and their descendants came to the far off land of "Avram" and have either colonised peacefully or conquered the land by fighting off it's fierce indigenous population.

    So the story is set 200 years from the first invasions and immigration's to "Avram". The people occupying this new land have done well with it, managing to cultivate more and more agriculture and gradually making the most of Avram's potential. It's an eclectic mix of many cultures, ethnic groups and religions from the old world, and those of the native Avramites.
     
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  15. Ruru

    Ruru Troubadour

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    Depending on how detailed you want to get with food, it could be worth thinking about nutrition (and by extension deficiencies created by having a water stressed / vegetable poor food source). Various organs of various animals can be good sources of essential vitamins (see I think dog livers for vitamin A?). Meat sources of these vitamins have the bonus that was mentioned above: they can be transported alive.

    Also, the presence of plant life gradually alters the micro climate the live in: in very subtle ways, more plant life often results in more rain (if there is moisture around in your atmosphere to condense on something). After 200 years, you could conceivably be starting to see a shift to a slightly, lets say 'damper' climate in your dessert.

    Not sure if you are just wanting to talk food preservation, but in a no-horse transportation world, maybe think wind power? I'm picturing the land yachts used in the Wind Singer, if anyone is familiar with that YA story (I'm sure a similar construct is used in other places to).
     
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  16. Psycho Wizard

    Psycho Wizard Banned

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    Yea this is a good point. One of the cultures most well known dish is basically a bread roll with spices and stewed kidney, same group of people are renowned for their butchers often donating meat product to the poor.

    Eating insects is also a thing; not common across the board, still seen as unpleasant or undesirable fare... But common enough for people not to freak out when they see other people doing it (Think China or Vietnam?).
     
  17. Ruru

    Ruru Troubadour

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    Yes insects are a good one, for sure. Countries like you mentioned have been eating insects for a long time; they are an excellent source of protein. Its been trialed in some Western countries, to grind up meal worms (very easy to cultivate) and add the 'flour' to things. People often can't tell the difference. I imagine ground up meal worm keeps well if its dry. You can by cricket protein here in New Zealand as a meal supplement now.

    Also, insects are capable of living in aquifers under ground. There are many example from our world of species that do this. Could be another food source.
     
  18. Psycho Wizard

    Psycho Wizard Banned

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    Even less desirable parts of a slaughtered carcass (Like the skin) are still avidly eaten by serious hunters in the 1st world. Things like tripe are always well dressed up with spices (Like kokorec for example).

    Might get around to reading the article here on Medieval recipes. My main issue is having realistic sources of food that fit the setting... But with enough diversity to demonstrate of several of the different cultures have their own cuisine. Much of the food in this place is Middle Eastern derived, but certain cultures have cuisines differing from this (One such group eat more like South Asians).
     
  19. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Inkling

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    Psycho WizardPsycho Wizard thanks for solving the mystery! It was a blue-green rock spinning in space, then bad stewardship and abusive magic happened to turn it into a dust ball full of cannibals. Sounds splendid!

    RuruRuru has a great point... it takes a lot of water to produce most vegetative and fruiting food stuffs. Maybe they could mainly eat succulents and cacti? Some fungi (mushrooms) don't need as much moisture to propagate on an commercial scale as you'd think. And, you might have to evolve to utilize a decomposition-based food chain vs. a food chain predicated by photosynthethis. Perhaps night-time pollinators, insects/ arachnids, reptiles and fungi drive the food chain? (There's always Soilent Green... I hear it's a readily available food stuff... Are you going to include the inevitability of prion diseases in your setting? )

    As far as human waste recycling and recycling gray water (to reclaim for drinking water and agriculture presumably) we already do that on industrial scales. Between the right cocktail of micro organisms, mechanical filtration and time, you can reclaim potable water from absolute filth. Maybe not to modern safety standards without chlorine, but reasonably on par with surface water.

    Also, there is another food preservation method that involves sealing food in vats or trays of rendered animal fat. (I think it would work with vegetative fats, too.) The most modern interpretation is [duck] confey (spelling, it's French). It's based on using fat to create an anerobic environment devoid of oxygen and water to hault spoilage. The top layer of fat oxidizes into yucky looking substances, but the food beneath it stays viable. I honestly can't remember if the food has to be pre-cooked or can go in raw. But that segweys into charcuterie. Lots of fats used to stabilize smoked, salted (fermented) dehydrated meats.

    Rendered fat is also used to extract / preserve essential oils in another French-word process called em-something. They borrowed the technique from the Arabs/ Ottomans if I'm not mistaken.

    If the water has been exiting the surface for eons, you might give them access to subterranean cave ecology. (Caves are also great for storing food.) Instead of a community well, you might have an unpleasant trek down into a cave to get water.
    In the ancient middle east, peoples kept digging under their individual houses until they found water. Imagine a 5+ story basement dug by generations of your family or prior occupants. A family that excavates together...

    If there are briney remnants of seas, you might be able to utilize brine algae (usually red or brown in color) as a vegetative food stuff as well as the brine-loving micro organisms. You might have to skim the water, let it dry out in a screen, knock off the extra salt, etc. Kind of like nori, only red-brown. These algae might accumulate toxins other than salt. I'm not sure if any known culture has ever tried to cultivate brine algae into food stuffs before?
     
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  20. Corwynn

    Corwynn Troubadour

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    Psycho Wizard, the world you describe brings another world to my mind: Mars.

    There is evidence that liquid water once existed on Mars. The reason for why this is no longer the case is, to my understanding, a combination of Mars's low gravity not being able to hold onto its atmosphere, and a lack of tectonic/volcanic activity not replenishing this atmosphere with outgassing. The dwindling surface water robbed the tectonic plates of the necessary lubrication, which created a vicious cycle.

    These reasons do not apply to your setting, but the Martian example provides an interesting idea. Back when Mars was thought to be inhabited by alien civilizations, people speculated that the "canals" of Mars (actually an optical illusion) were built by the Martians to bring water from the polar ice caps to the rest of the planet. These canals would serve as irrigation, transportation, and a source of drinking water. If your world has few rivers, perhaps with the right magic and/or technology they could build their own. Of course, that assumes that a society has the resources and political will and organization to embark on an engineering project of that magnitude, which doesn't appear to be the case for any of the cultures you mentioned, but perhaps someone did in the past?

    In the absence of rivers, canals, or airborne transport, you will have to go over land. The basic draft animals you describe are good enough for moving freight (assuming you have a stable and level road, but we'll get to that). As for humans, you'll either have to walk, or ride in a litter or palanquin carried by human bearers. Cultures that lacked beasts of burden, like the Aztecs, used caravans with teams of human porters who carried their loads in specially-designed backpacks. If you are walking across the desert, you'll need good footwear (unless you have genetic adaptations and a lifetime of conditioning). Probably the best choice would be sandals similar to those worn by Roman legionaries; sturdy, well-secured, allowing air to circulate and preventing sand from accumulating inside.

    This of course will depend a great deal on whether you are making your way across flat hardpan, or sand dunes or loose rocks. Take a walk along a dry sandy beach and you will have an idea of the difficulty of negotiating sand. Going across it will be harder and slower, and animals and vehicles may not be able to take it.

    As for food, I think others have covered it. I think the term Night Gardener is looking for is canard confit. I don't know about the em-word. Embroillage? (just a wild stab in the dark).
     
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