Wednesday, March 9, 2011

T-2 Days Until Spring Break: Ancient Engineering and Roman Concrete

We're talking about the naumachia in my Engineering in the Ancient Mediterranean class, and no matter whether they were actually able to flood the Colosseum or not, I'm more interested in the concrete.

If I didn't desire to keep my sanity, I'd finish my chemistry minor. I'll just finish my organic chemistry book this summer. This does relate to concrete because there's a surprising amount of chemistry in making ancient concrete work right. Everywhere I look the ancients surprise me at how much they were able to do. I mean, they were using underwater concrete and had automated saws and mills! The Ancient Greeks had concrete too, but from what I've read the Romans were able to improve it with the volcanic sand in beaches surrounding Mount Vesuvius. Mixed with gravel, lime, and water in the right proportions in the proper conditions, we have the concrete that has lasted over 1500 years.

They couldn't have just mixed these things together and left them in the bucket and expected them to transform magically into concrete. It had to have pressure and be worked or it wouldn't set up properly. There's ancient writings about how much aging concrete and related things like bricks had to undergo before they were allowable for use in buildings. Buildings that fell in on their tenants were probably just as notorious as the ones that caught fire.

I'm thinking about doing something with concrete for my final project, but I'm not sure about whether the logistics are workable. I'm in Iowa and there aren't exactly any volcanoes near by. If I was back home, I could go ask at the observatory in the "dead zone" at Mount Saint Helens if I could borrow some ash and see how that worked.

All the underlying chemistry surrounding Roman concrete just makes me happy. But if it's too cumbersome to do a project on, I'm going to do something with Roman bread. My boyfriend will probably enjoy my various attempts, if I go that way, as it means he'll get lots of bread. The Romans may have borrowed a lot of things, or outright taken them, but they were good with advancing engineering and other things that they could get the rich to fund.

And now to write a paper on the relation of politics and religion in Egypt. Then onto a comparative analysis of the Passion accounts in the four Christian gospels and a bit of Pre-Calculus.