Studies in Ancient Technology - Vol. 1

Studies in Ancient Technology - Vol. 1

Studies in Ancient Technology - Vol. 1

Studies in Ancient Technology - Vol. 1


The extensive use of different members of the petroleum family is one of the most characteristic expressions of our modern civilisation. Since the rise of the petroleum industry, after the development of drilling methods from 1860 onward, the use of bitumen has been revived. During many centuries, throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the knowledge of the properties of this material, so extensively used in Antiquity, had slumbered or degenerated and bitumen was only remembered for its supposed magical or medicinal properties.

The impetus to our modern asphalt-industry must be ascribed to the Greek doctor EYRINIS d'EYRINIS, who in 1721 rediscovered the Neuchâtel rockasphalt (1).

This branch of the petroleum industry has been developed by the constant efforts of chemists and engineers during the last century to the effect that bitumen is now used for a wide range of purposes.

It is prominent in road-building, paper manufacture, roofing material and mouldings, while it is extensively used in impregnation, insulating or waterproofing layers, floors, tiles, paints and briquetting of coal-dust.

In a way, therefore, many uses of bitumen were rediscovered after a long slumber.

Everyone familiar with the results of modern archaeology will have found many references to the use of bitumen in Antiquity. It is certainly a common building material in the eastern half of the Fertile Cresent, and it is often mentioned in connection with mummification or lacquers in Egypt. At the same time its heighdays seem to be over with the coming of Hellenism. Amongst both the Romans and Greeks there is little in the way of the use of bitumens, but tars and pitches are then more commonly used. There is a natural explanation for these facts.

It is true that wood tar and wood-tar pitch are known ages before Hellenism, but the very frequent use of bitumen for all kinds of purposes involved the production of large quantities of this type of material.

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