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Lime's History

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la calce nella storia Today the lime, with a global annual total production of over 300 million tons, a chemical / industrial product more widespread in the world.

But its history dates back to the dawn of history's man on earth.

It is assumed that the lime discovery, from the prehistoric man, was coeval with the discovery of other natural binders, such as the clay and gypsum, prior to the discovery of metals because the lowest temperatures at which its burning happens.

It is reasonable to suppose that the discovery was accidentally noticed that in some geographic areas, with some stones around the fire, those in contact with fire, altered their structure into dust, if united with the water, became a plastic paste, which then dry loses its plasticity and returned to have the rigidity of the original stone.

The binders discovery can be considered as a very important step in human evolution, because it was one of the first opportunities for humans to change the nature to his advantage.

The first historical evidences of the lime systematic use or of the lime basis components and gypsum from the man part were found by archaeologists:

  • At Cajenu (Turkey) where the lime was used like mix with sand is for the covering of some terraces (8,000 B.C.)
  • At Yiftah (Israel) they are found some floors made with lime and stones placed on a base made of clay (7,000 B.C.)
  • At Lepenski Vir (Serbia) they were found some floors of homes built with the lime mortars use, sand and clay (6,000 B.C.)
  • At Shersi (Tibet) the lime is used for the construction of the pyramids (3,000 B.C.)
  • At Kafaje (Mesopotamia) it was recovered from a lime kiln dating back to 2,450 B.C.
calce: le piramidi Cairo (Egypt) the lime is used for the structural construction of the pyramid of Cheops and mixed with gypsum was used to realise the plaster on which were painted hieroglyphics, even the closing door of the burial chamber is made with stones and lime mortar. (2,500 B.C).

The massive and systematic lime use from the Greek civilization dates back to 1500 - 2000 BC, such use in Italy seems to come only at a later period (1,000 BC) thanks to the Romans and the Etruscans.

In 1000 years BC dates back to the construction of the Jericho walls (23 miles from Jerusalem) to protect the city from enemies, the Bible tells us that the wall was destroyed by the Jews when they settled in the Promised Land.

At the time that the use of lime propagates in Italy by the Romans, in many other parts of the world, even very far from each other, were found human artefacts made contemporaneous with the lime, they are remembered in Central America the pyramids and Mayan palaces and the Incas, in China the Great Wall built by the Chin Dynasty in 228 BC, Mongolia and India many temples and private homes.

While the use of lime by the Romans was later, the first known users were the aqueduct and the Appian road dating back to 300 BC, in fact we owe to the Roman civilization the lime codification, the manner of its use and production.

Empedocles, a poet and scientist of Magna Graecia, who lived between 482 and 426 BC in the Sicilian town of Agrigento, in his "Nature" book describes many natural phenomena and for first describes the "cycle of lime".

Empedocles writes "there is some magic in collecting a stone from the land, demolished by fire, modelled with water and with the man ingenious to get back with the air help a solid hard as the starting stone" .

Due to the prevailing geology of their territory, the Romans, in the initial phase of the lime use, knew only the properties of aerated lime (lime able to take hold by using the air) mixed with sand.

Soon, however, the Romans, Greeks and Phoenicians imported the technology of hydraulic binders preparation (lime binders which are taken with the water).

The hydraulic binders were obtained from the Greeks and Phoenicians, mixing aerated lime with volcanic sands coming from the islands of Santos and Thera (today Santorini).

These materials types mixed with aerated lime allowed performances in terms of resistance, much higher than those obtained with aerated lime mixed with "clean" sand and also enable the mortar to take hold even under water, therefore allowing the construction of ports and bridges with parts under the water.

For the production of their hydraulic mortars, the Romans used primarily deposits of pozzolana [volcanic earth near the town of Pozzuoli (Napoli)], it’s from this city that derives its name, still used today, of "pozzolanic cement".

anfore e calce - il  colle Testaccio The Romans, probably imported from the Minoan civilization of Crete, the producing mortar technique with hydraulic properties by mixing lime with bricks, tiles and vases milled or shattered (crock crushed).

The legend says that ancient Rome, was established on seven hills, but the Romans throughout their history, they realized artificially the eighth hill, the hill of Testaccio.

All the food transportation during the empire days, was done by using terra cotta pots weighing about 30 / 40 Kg each, once emptied of the content they had the problem to be sanitized to prevent the content residue putrefaction and to be stored.

The Romans began to store the pots empty, near the Tiber river port, the pots were covered with lime to prevent fermentation and putrefaction of food waste that caused miasma.

Over the centuries, this storage pots, has reached the height of 80 meters. creating the eighth hill of Rome.

Thanks to the reaction between lime and clay, this new hill has taken a stable structure so that at today it is completely built by modern buildings.

With the expansion of the empire, the Romans exported throughout Europe, the technology of lime production.

It was customary that when the Roman legions settled in new territories, created a military camp near the lime kiln in order to have always available the material for the construction of aqueducts, roads, ports, sanitation, for the agriculture, for tanning and for medical use.

il Pantheon e la calce The Romans lime technology reached such a level of technology that in the year 27 BC could create the dome of the Pantheon in Rome, with its 43 mt. in diameter, remained the largest dome ever built by the man until the twentieth century.

Great was the work of some authors Romans to spread the good use of lime creating a "rules" for the production, the aging and the use.

The first known text is the "de Architectura", a work in ten volumes written by .Marcus Vitruvius Pollio in 13 BC.

The monumental work of Vitruvius mentions so many aspects of production and use of lime, it is surprising how few notes contained in the text, are still reflected in the daily lives of the producers or users of lime today.
We mention below only one of these notes, as it seems rather emblematic.

In regard to the lime putty preparation citing Vitruvius "When it will be done the soaking, and carefully prepared for the work, take an ax and like it’s cut the wood, so it is made to the lime soaked in the tank: If with the ax you meet some pebbles, it will not be well soaked, if you will extract the steel out dried and cleaned, it will indicate the lime lean and dry, if it will stick around the steel like gluten, it will indicate to be fat and well macerated and it will be more than enough evidence to believe well soaked”; try now to ask a technician who deals with lime putty production how you can recognize a good lime putty without recourse to the laboratory testing.

You may notice that the answer is exactly the one given by Vitruvius 2000 years ago!

Naturalis Historiae - la calce Also Pliny the Elder (23 - 79 AD) incorporates the experiences of Vitruvius, of which he was an admirer, deepening in his book “Naturalis Historia” some specific aspects relating to the engineering for the lime kilns construction.

Pliny repeats and cites in his text, the codification of lime kilns constructive methods, basing on what it had been agreed at that time by the corporation of "calcis cocitores” (lime burning) in Rome.

In 75 AD the greek doctor Descorrefers the utility of the saturated lime water use to fight the stomach pain (acidity).

St. Augustine Bishop (354 to 430 AD) was born in Algiers, he is known to most like one of the Christian church main theologians, he was in reality a respected civil engineer who continued and improved the construction methods already reported by Vitruvius and Pliny.

The Roman Empire fall and the beginning of Middle Ages led to a loss of the "lime knowledge" much cultivated by the Romans.

In this historical period, the lime and artefacts quality become very poor, many this period vestiges are lost, worn by time and weather because often "poorly constructed".

The historical news known about the production and the lime use of in this period suggest that it had regressed to 1,500 years.

The lime kilns made with brick and with some technology "tricks" during the Roman Empire period, leaving now place to rudimentary temporary kilns (rural kilns) who were a little more than holes in the ground rounded by stone walls.

alchimia - la calce nel <strong>medioevo</strong> In England and France, too, the period of the Saxons and Normans (450 to 1150 AD) corresponds to a period of strong decay of the technique of the lime development and production.

It’s in the Middle Ages, however, that some alchemists discovered how mixing the lime with wood ash it was possible to causticizate the potassium carbonate to produce a lye form which is the basis for the soap production.

Shakespeare mentions in his works how the lime was used by Englishmen in 1217 to throw toward the French enemies, giving the start to the first form of chemical war in the history.

Some authors tell us how over the centuries IX, X, XI, in England and France had lost all the knowledge of the lime and mortars proper use.

Today the analysis of the used mortars for the building in this historical period, lead us to highlight how the sands were often used "dirty", not selected, badly mixed and the use of hydraulic mortars or crock crushed were completely disappeared.

In Europe, the "lime" situation begin to better only in the twelfth century and continued into the fourteenth century when the enlightenment advent carried to the translation from Latin of the classic texts of Vitruvius and Pliny, rediscovering the construction and the production methods mentioned by these authors.

In the seventeenth century, during the great works of hydraulic engineering made for the construction of the Palace of Versailles, some French scholars such as De La Faye, Lariot and others take up the study of Roman technology that allowed the construction of stable buildings and long-lasting.

Jean Rondelet in 1805 published an influential book entitled "Treatment of the building art" in which he analyzed and tried to explain why the performances reasons obtained with mortars by the Romans in particular, attributing this merit rather than to the lime itself, to the conditions in which this was used, the cure of the aggregates composition, the mixture and the mass constipation.

Only in the following years, with the science development, the empirical intuitions of Rondelet met confirmation and scientific facts.

1908 - forno a calce - illustrazione In mid 1700, there is an important step for the lime world, first Josef Blankof Glasgow University and then the physical Lavoisier, isolated and identified the CO2, starting to give a scientific aspect to the limestone decarbonation process and of the lime recarbonation.

In these modern chemistry first years, the decarbonation process due to its simplicity attracted the interest of many scientists who tried to understand its secrets.

In 1766 De Romecourt published a detailed study entitled "the lime burning art", where for first, since the days of' Roman Empire, tried to describe the economic and engineering aspects about the industrial lime burning process.

In 1818 the French Vicat, first, states the rational principles for the modern hydraulic lime production.

In 1867 Debray measures the pressures of calcium carbonate dissociation, measures taken later in a more accurate way by Le Chatelier in 1886.

In 1935, Searle describes in a text the technology and main constructive aspects of 40 known kilns typologies.