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“The Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder can be charmingly self-deprecating. He attempted, in the 1st century A.D., to curate all ancient knowledge in his Natural History, yet he described its 37 volumes to his close friend’s son, Titus, the Emperor of Rome, as having “such inferior importance.” To Pliny, they did “not admit of the display of genius,” nor “of anything particularly pleasant in the narration, or agreeable to the reader.” But he reminded Titus of his basic challenge—that it was, “indeed, no easy task to give novelty to what is old, and authority to what is new.”
He might be pleased, then, to see an ancient technology that he himself admired taking on a modern relevance and novelty. Who, Pliny wondered, could help but be surprised at the way the Roman harbor infrastructure, made from a mix of lime and volcanic ash, overcomes entropy, “forming a barrier against the waves of the sea, becoming changed into stone the moment of its immersion, and increasing in hardness from day to day—more particularly when mixed with the cement of Cumae,” an ancient city in Naples?
The geologist and geophysicist Marie Jackson, of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, shares Pliny’s admiration for these still-standing structures, and has scoured ancient Roman texts in hopes of uncovering the recipe that makes them so durable. The goal would be to revive Roman concrete, and their building techniques, for the modern age—but, alas, her efforts were to no avail.”
JJ Editor's Picks
"On Christmas Eve of 1966, Paddy Roy Bates, a retired British army major, drove a small boat with an outboard motor seven miles off the coast of England into the North Sea. He had sneaked out of his house in the middle of the night, inspired..."
"The book that changed lecturer, activist, and current presidential candidate Marianne Williamson’s life, A Course in Miracles, is not available for free online, but its workbook is. You can find it on the website for the Foundation for..."
"Here are two sets of statements from far-distant opposites in the climate change debate. The first is from Naomi Klein, who in her book This Changes Everything paints a bleak picture of a global socioeconomic system gone wrong: “There is a..."
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"With the presidential campaign under way, expect to hear a lot more about a shiny new toy of progressive economic thinking, “modern monetary theory.” It seems to be the only intellectual contortion that might allow candidates to promise..."
"“We don’t want to fight y’all. We’re not trying to go to jail.” That’s what A$AP Rocky, the 30-year-old New York City rapper, can be heard saying in a video of an encounter with strangers in Sweden that has ballooned into an international crisis."
"Israel’s top officials are considering denying Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib entry to their country due to their outspoken, controversial criticism of Israel’s policy toward Palestinians, not to mention their slurs against American Jews as..."
"For most of our lives, we have been conditioned to share a piece of personal information without a moment’s hesitation: our phone number. We punch in our digits at the grocery store to get a member discount or at the pharmacy to pick up..."