Automata present fascinating precursors for modern robotics, offering early strides into the uncanny valley between human and nonhuman. Today's case is an old one, dating back before Vaucanson's duck, even before da Vinci's robot, but after Heron: the twelfth-century Arab mechanical engineer Al-Jaziri (spelled Al-Jazari for the Wikipedia entry). Born in Iraq, he worked in northeastern Turkey for the local lordship.
For uncanny humanoid robot purposes, he's notable for artifacts and theory. Al-Jaz*ri built a boat full of mechanical musicians, which may have been programmable. For theory, he wrote up a mechanical engineering textbook around 1206 CE, The Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices (good account here) On the side, he invented the crankshaft and combination lock.
(via clockpunk central)