Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Asbestos use in the ancient world

Asbestos: "The asbestos industry ushers in thoughts of lung ailments such as asbestosis and incurable mesothelioma cancer. But long before modern medicine showed the dangers of this mineral, ancient people knew of its fire mastering properties and the problems it presented.

Asbestos is a Greek word meaning 'inextinguishable' or 'indestructible'. It is a naturally occurring silicate mineral consisting of magnesium, calcium and iron. It is composed of strong fibres, which are either silky in texture with curly fibres or straight with needle like fibres. When it is processed into manufactured products, very small fibres are created. These invisible fibres are the source of danger when inhaled.

The Romans mined or quarried asbestos from all over Europe and the Mediterranean. It was used in literally hundreds of products because it is strong, insulates well, and resists fire and corrosion. The ancient Greeks used asbestos in their cloth and the Romans used it in their building materials. They wove asbestos fibres into fabrics to make towels, napkins, nets and head coverings for women. It was also used in cremation robes and candlewicks and may have been used in the everlasting flame that was kept alight by the Vestal Virgins."
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