Researchers used the Advanced Light Source (ALS) to study binding phases in Roman architectural concrete, revealing reactions and profound transformations that contribute to the material’s long-term cohesion and durability.
The findings add to our growing understanding of cementing processes in Roman concretes, informing resilient materials of the future.
Marie Jackson, a research associate professor at the University of Utah, has devoted much of her career to understanding the scientific mysteries underlying the exceptional durability of Roman concretes. The ALS has been essential to her and her colleagues’ studies, helping to reveal the chemical and microstructural evolution of the materials.
Concrete is made of rock aggregates and a binder. Modern concretes typically use Portland cement—made by burning a mixture of limestone and clay at high temperature—as binder. Roman concretes, in contrast, consist of coarse volcanic rock (or brick) aggregate bound with mortar made from hydrated lime and reactive tephra—the particles ejected from explosive volcanic eruptions.
In this study, Jackson, along with collaborators Admir Masic and Linda Seymour of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Nobumichi Tamura of the ALS, examined mortar samples from the Tomb of Caecilia Metella in Rome. The team hoped that the 2,050-year-old monument would provide insights into how Roman builders’ selections of reactive volcanic rock influenced the material characteristics of the very robust concrete.
Read more on the ALS website
Image: The Tomb of Caecilia Metella on the Via Appia Antica in Rome. The edifice is one of the most refined concrete and dimension stone structures of the latest Roman Republican era.
Credit: Emmanuel Brunner