Mastery and Uses of Fire in Antiquity

Mastery and Uses of Fire in Antiquity

Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Mastery and Uses of Fire in Antiquity
    Book Description:

    The technological achievements that make contemporary society possible are the result of some ten thousand years of development of the intentional use of fire, yet there is surprisingly little information on the practice and importance of pyrotechnology. J.E. Rehder, an engineer with fifty years of experience in industrial research and pyrotechnology, offers a detailed examination of how fire and furnaces were used in antiquity - from the hardening of clay, to the smelting of iron ore, to the production of glass. The Mastery and Uses of Fire in Antiquity provides much-needed information for anyone interested in archaeology, anthropology, and pyrotechnology.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6855-6
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    Ursula M. Franklin

    It is a great privilege for me to write this foreword to the book by my friend and colleague J.E. Rehder. The book is an important and quite unique work, and I would like to illustrate its great potential and at the same time give the reader an indication of the philosophy behind the work.

    As a contribution to the reconstruction of the past, Rehder’s book is essentially a companion, a knowledgeable friend to have by one’s side while studying ancient objects and thinking about the accomplishments of those who made them.

    This companion, like its author, is both a...

  5. Preface
    (pp. xvii-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-8)

    The material fabrics of nearly all settled civilizations have by and large consisted of things that exist only because of pyrotechnology – the generation, control, and application of heat, which at sufficient temperature can alter the properties and compositions of all materials. When the materials are of the earth itself, since antiquity the resulting products have formed a large part of the material bases of human wellbeing. The list of such products is today extensive, as a little thought will suggest: steel beams, reinforced concrete floors, brick walls, glass windows, metal and plastic pipes for water, gas, and sewage, copper wires...

  7. 1 The Nature of Heat and the Management of Its Temperature
    (pp. 9-12)

    Heat has three singular and interesting properties that affect how it can be generated and used. The first and most important is its intensity or temperature, which measures its ability to affect materials. The second is that heat flows instantly from a higher to a lower temperature. The third is that heat cannot be confined, since there is no known material that does not conduct heat to some extent. From the instant it is generated, heat leaks everywhere and constantly, but since different materials have different conductivities, some control can be achieved over the rate of flow or loss of...

  8. 2 How Furnaces Work
    (pp. 13-24)

    As a general custom the word “furnace” implies that temperatures above about 250°C are involved, as this is the level above which most organic materials start to decompose and form a char. Enclosures of fire used for lower temperatures are mostly for food preparation, which is incipient decomposition, and are called ovens. Two common inorganic materials whose properties can be usefully altered by such moderate temperatures are gypsum (discussed in chapter 5) and flakeable stones such as flint and chert (not discussed here). A kiln is a high temperature furnace that was used through antiquity for firing ceramics and making...

  9. 3 The Properties and Combustion of Biomass
    (pp. 25-37)

    Biomass has become the all-inclusive name for living and recently dead vegetable matter which occurs in large quantity and in enormous variety of types and species spread over the face of a large part of the earth. Among its qualities is that it can be burned readily, and it was essentially the only fuel used throughout antiquity. The more common varieties of biomass that have been and still are widely used as fuel include trees both as trunks and as branches, shrubs, grasses, straw, and chaff from food grains, trimmings from orchard and vineyard pruning, other waste vegetable and organic...

  10. 4 Furnace Configurations for Biomass Fuel
    (pp. 38-45)

    A fuel bed of burning biomass generates heat both within the bed and as a flame outside the bed. Thus to transfer heat to one or more objects, they can be immersed in the fuel bed before its ignition, or contained in an enclosure to be heated by the flame from biomass burned in a separate, but connected, firebox. Each has its advantages, but the latter arrangement can be under much better control and is more efficient in the use of fuel. It became dominant in the Near East apparently by about the sixth millennium B.C.

    The simplest procedure to...

  11. 5 Products Made in Antiquity in Biomass Fuelled Furnaces
    (pp. 46-54)

    The categories of products in antiquity were simple – ceramics, lime, glass, and the smelting and melting of metals – but each of these was divided into many kinds of products. Fired clay, for example, was used for pottery and other containers, building bricks both plain and glazed, roofing tiles, mosaic tesserae, and small statuary.

    Through antiquity fired clay was a widely used product of high temperature heat. Our discussion of furnaces so far has taken as examples mostly kilns that have been used for firing pottery, a practice that has continued into the present day. The hardness and strength of fired...

  12. 6 The Manufacture and Properties of Charcoal
    (pp. 55-62)

    When biomass is burned with ample access of air, a series of reactions and decompositions takes place that were described in chapter 3. If, however, combustion is stopped before it is complete, as for example by rain or by excluding air by a cover of earth, some charcoal usually remains. Charcoal has very different physical and chemical properties from those of the biomass from which it is made, and for reasons to be given in chapter 7, it was universally used in antiquity for the smelting of ores of metals. It was therefore necessary to be able to manufacture charcoal...

  13. 7 Combustion in Beds of Lump Charcoal
    (pp. 63-73)

    The combustion of fuel beds of the various forms of lump carbon low in VM, such as charcoal, coke, and anthracite coal, has been thoroughly studied both in the laboratory and industrially. Basically only two simple chemical reactions are involved, which occur in sequence and at quite different rates. The result is that in the same fuel bed, oxidizing gas at high temperature and reducing gas at lower temperature can be found at different levels. These can be changed as the lump size and air supply rate are changed, giving remarkable versatility in the use of lump fuels, particularly for...

  14. 8 Combustion Air Supply for Charcoal
    (pp. 74-83)

    By now it must be clear that the rate of air (i.e., oxygen) supply to a fuel bed is the primary control over the rate of generation of heat and the performance of furnaces. In antiquity, combustion air supply for charcoal fuel could be from three sources: as human breath through a blowpipe, as ambient air from a bellows, or as ambient air drawn in by natural draft. All were used at some time or in some location, and each source of oxygen produces its own pattern of limitations and possibilities. Each will be discussed separately in the order given,...

  15. 9 Furnace Configurations for Charcoal Fuel
    (pp. 84-100)

    This chapter discusses in some detail the quantitative functioning of bowl and shaft charcoal-fuelled furnaces to clarify their operation, since there has been little published on the subject in the archaeological press. It is in effect an elaboration of chapter 2.

    If a heap of charcoal is made on the ground and ignited, and a tuyere is thrust horizontally part way into it near its base and air is supplied by a bellows, high temperature will be developed a few centimetres from the tuyere nose. However, the pattern of combustion and temperature will be spread laterally more widely than that...

  16. 10 The Reduction of Metals and the Functions of Slags
    (pp. 101-112)

    Ores may be defined for present purposes as rocks of various kinds that for geological reasons contain concentrations of minerals of metals of use to humankind. These minerals are distinct chemical compounds, often sulphides or oxides but also hydroxides, carbonates, silicates, and others. They are usually of higher specific gravity and different colour than the host rock, and so can be concentrated by crushing the ore and separating the mineral by gravity or visual appearance. In antiquity (and to a large extent even today) the minerals could be economically decomposed or reduced to their constituent metals only by first changing...

  17. 11 The Smelting of Copper
    (pp. 113-121)

    Pure copper is a soft, very ductile, only moderately strong metal, but it can be increased in strength and hardness by cold working such as bending and hammering. This is much more effective when the copper has been alloyed with arsenic or tin to form bronze. Arsenic is in fact a more efficient work-hardening agent in copper than tin (Buchwald and Leisner 1990), but in antiquity during the second millennium B.C. the use of tin slowly replaced that of arsenic, possibly because of the toxic effects of arsenic oxide vapour formed during smelting or melting. Other elements such as antimony,...

  18. 12 The Smelting, Forging, and Properties of Iron
    (pp. 122-144)

    Considering the metallurgical interaction between copper and iron during smelting, it seems likely that the first human awareness of smelted iron as a possible replacement for very scarce meteoric or native iron was of iron unexpectedly appearing during early copper smelting. Its mechanical and forging properties would have been poor and variable because of its copper content, and the metal not as useful as copper or bronze. It took a long time to discover that if the iron ore used as flux for copper smelting was smelted by itself using different operating parameters for the furnace, the iron made could...

  19. 13 Fuel Consumption by Pyrotechnology in Antiquity
    (pp. 145-152)

    The several categories of use of high temperature heat in antiquity consumed different quantities of fuel per unit weight of product made, and it is of interest and practical value in archaeology to determine them. My objective here is to generate some carefully considered estimates of fuel consumption for various kinds of product, for use in comparisons and as bases for estimates of amounts of biomass consumed by pyrotechnology in antiquity. These estimates are of course dependent on the quantitative artifactual information available, which is variable in amount and accuracy.

    While the figures are necessarily averages, the method of arriving...

  20. 14 Fuel Supply and Deforestation
    (pp. 153-159)

    Here I make a plea for correct names of actions. To grow forest on clear land is to “afforest” it, a word that is in the dictionary. To clear land of forest or trees is to “deforest” it, another word to be found in the dictionary, with similarly clear etymology. The word “deafforest,” which is too commonly used, is not only in no dictionary to my knowledge but is self-contradictory.

    Deforestation is the name for the removal by humans of the larger and older kinds of biomass such as trees. This has been done primarily to make space for human...

  21. 15 Artifacts from the Operation of Furnaces
    (pp. 160-164)

    Many of the artifacts from furnace operation must have become evident from the foregoing discussions, so this short chapter is intended as a reminder and check-list. The notes here are necessarily incomplete, because of limited space and the large number of ways in which pyrotechnology was practised over millennia and by a large variety of peoples.

    The artifacts concerned can be divided for convenience into four categories: fuels, furnaces in which they were burned, combustion air supply and its accessories, and products made. Since this last category contains items so numerous in kind and number that a separate treatise would...

    (pp. 167-174)
    (pp. 175-179)
    (pp. 180-188)
    (pp. 189-194)
  26. Glossary
    (pp. 195-198)
  27. References
    (pp. 199-206)
  28. Index
    (pp. 207-216)