Concrete, strong stuff...
But apparently Roman concrete is among the strongest stuff, and it just got stronger while it was under seawater.
Previous work had revealed lime particles within the cores that surprisingly contained the mineral aluminous tobermorite – a rare substance that is hard to make.And it looks like the Romans knew what they were doing.
The mineral, said Jackson, formed early in the history of the concrete, as the lime, seawater and volcanic ash of the mortar reacted together in a way that generated heat.
But now Jackson and the team have made another discovery. “I went back to the concrete and found abundant tobermorite growing through the fabric of the concrete, often in association with phillipsite [another mineral],” she said.
She said this revealed another process that was also at play. Over time, seawater that seeped through the concrete dissolved the volcanic crystals and glasses, with aluminous tobermorite and phillipsite crystallising in their place.
These minerals, say the authors, helped to reinforce the concrete, preventing cracks from growing, with structures becoming stronger over time as the minerals grew.
As the authors note, the Romans were aware of the virtues of their concrete, with Pliny the Elder waxing lyrical in his Natural History that it is “impregnable to the waves and every day stronger”.If you want to read more, check out the original research article...or the Guardian article that's way more readable and that I quoted up above.