The History of Concrete in Civil Engineering

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The History of Concrete

The History of Concrete

Concrete Use on Prehistoric Era

Perhaps the earliest known occurrence of cement was twelve million years ago. A deposit of cement was formed after an occurrence of oil shale located adjacent to a bed of limestone burned due to natural causes. These ancient deposits were investigated in the 1960s and 1970s.

On a human timescale, small usages of concrete go back for thousands of years. Concrete-like materials were used since 6500 BC by the Nabataea traders or Bedouins who occupied and controlled a series of oases and developed a small empire in the regions of southern Syria and northern Jordan. They discovered the advantages of hydraulic lime, with some self-cementing properties, by 700 BC. They built kilns to supply mortar for the construction of rubble-wall houses, concrete floors, and underground waterproof cisterns. The cisterns were kept secret and were one of the reasons the Nabataea were able to thrive in the desert. Some of these structures survive to this day.

Concrete Use on Classical Era

In both Roman and Egyptian times, it was re-discovered that adding volcanic ash to the mix allowed it to set underwater. Similarly, the Romans knew that adding horse hair made concrete less liable to crack while it hardened, and adding blood made it more frost-resistant. Crystallization of str├Ątlingite and the introduction of pyro-clastic clays creates further fracture resistance.

German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann found concrete floors, which were made of lime and pebbles, in the royal palace of Tiryns, Greece, which dates roughly to 1400-1200 BC. Lime mortars were used in Greece, Crete, and Cyprus in 800 BC. The Assyrian Jerwan Aqueduct (688 BC) made use of waterproof concrete. Concrete was used for construction in many ancient structures.

The Romans used concrete extensively from 300 BC to 476 AD, a span of more than seven hundred years. During the Roman Empire, Roman concrete (or opus caementicium) was made from quicklime, pozzolana and an aggregate of pumice. Its widespread use in many Roman structures, a key event in the history of architecture termed the Roman Architectural Revolution, freed Roman construction from the restrictions of stone and brick material and allowed for revolutionary new designs in terms of both structural complexity and dimension.

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Concrete, as the Romans knew it, was a new and revolutionary material. Laid in the shape of arches, vaults and domes, it quickly hardened into a rigid mass, free from many of the internal thrusts and strains that troubled the builders of similar structures in stone or brick.

Modern tests show that opus caementicium had as much compressive strength as modern Portland-cement concrete (ca. 200 kg/cm2 [20 MPa; 2,800 psi]). However, due to the absence of reinforcement, its tensile strength was far lower than modern reinforced concrete, and its mode of application was also different:
Modern structural concrete differs from Roman concrete in two important details. First, its mix consistency is fluid and homogeneous, allowing it to be poured into forms rather than requiring hand-layering together with the placement of aggregate, which, in Roman practice, often consisted of rubble. Second, integral reinforcing steel gives modern concrete assemblies great strength in tension, whereas Roman concrete could depend only upon the strength of the concrete bonding to resist tension.

The widespread use of concrete in many Roman structures ensured that many survive to the present day. The Baths of Caracalla in Rome are just one example. Many Roman aqueducts and bridges such as the magnificent Pont du Gard have masonry cladding on a concrete core, as does the dome of the Pantheon.

Concrete Use on Middle Ages

After the Roman Empire, the use of burned lime and pozzolana was greatly reduced until the technique was all but forgotten between 500 and the 14th century. From the 14th century to the mid-18th century, the use of cement gradually returned. The Canal du Midi was built using concrete in 1670, and there are concrete structures in Finland that date from the 16th century.

Concrete Use on Industrial era

Perhaps the greatest driver behind the modern usage of concrete was Smeaton’s Tower, the third Eddystone Lighthouse in Devon, England. To create this structure, between 1756 and 1759, British engineer John Smeaton pioneered the use of hydraulic lime in concrete, using pebbles and powdered brick as aggregate.

A method for producing Portland cement was patented by Joseph Aspdin on 1824. Reinforced concrete was invented in 1849 by Joseph Monier. In 1889 the first concrete reinforced bridge was built, and the first large concrete dams were built in 1936, Hoover Dam and Grand Coulee Dam.

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