Concrete is an incredibly useful and versatile building material on which not only today’s societies, but also the ancient Roman Empire was built. To this day Roman concrete structures can be found in mundane locations such as harbors, but also the Pantheon in Rome, which to this day forms the largest unreinforced concrete dome in existence at 43.3 meters diameter, and is in excellent condition despite being being nearly 1,900 years old.
Even as the Roman Empire fell and receded into what became the Byzantine – also known as the Eastern Roman – Empire and the world around these last remnants of Roman architecture changed and changed again, all of these concrete structures remained despite knowledge of how to construct structures like them being lost to the ages. Perhaps the most astounding thing is that even today our concrete isn’t nearly as durable, despite modern inventions such as reinforcing with rebar.
Reverse-engineering ancient Roman concrete has for decades now been the source of intense study and debate, with a recent paper by Linda M. Seymour and colleagues adding an important clue to the puzzle. Could so-called ‘hot mixing’, with pockets of reactive lime clasts inside the cured concrete provide self-healing properties?