From the Vault: The Mark of Civilization

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original contributions. And so: my From the Archives series. This week: Aqueducts and pyramids and highways, oh my.


Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons, License CC-BY-SA 3.0

Roman Aqueduct, c. 1st century, Spain

When you think about the Roman Empire, one of the first things that pops into mind is their aqueduct system…unless you've been watching too much TV, in which case you’re likely thinking of their gladiators or legions.

I feel pretty comfortable saying that the reason Rome was so stable for so long was due to their roads, aqueducts, sewer system, and other civil projects. It always grates me a little bit when people talk about the gladiatorial games being used to pacify the population—they certainly did that, but this was secondary to having clean water, plenty of food, and sanitation.

Thanks to the Roman Empire's extensive civil improvements, Rome itself had a population of more than a MILLION people. That's just nuts for a city in the ancient world. Athens maybe had 300K, and it was enormous for its time. There are only a few other ancient cities of comparable size at all.

That's where Rome's real success lay: not in conquest but in civil planning and construction. I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record in this blog space, going on about how people focused on war as the key part of history bugs me. (Maggie jokes sometimes that she is worried I'll start buying Grateful Dead shirts and growing a ponytail.) It's not about hating war, though. It's about acknowledging that what we build and how we build it is, ultimately, the most important legacy of a society.

Eisenhower's greatest accomplishment as President? The Interstate Highway System. What do we remember about the Egyptians? The pyramids. If you look at any society from more than a couple decades or so, what part of it lasts? Their construction.

The aqueducts have stood for millennia. I rest my case.

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Photo: Diego Delso, delso,photo, License CC-BY-SA

The Yard Ramp Guy Blog: A Stadium View

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy, without bragging (not his style), highlights yard ramp placement with high-profile sports teams and what he calls "service without complaint, needing virtually no maintenance, and readily repositioned to be placed into and out of service when needed." Bravo, I say.

Click HERE to read all about it.

From the Archives: Ancient Ramp Construction

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original contributions. And so: my From the Archives series. This week I explore the earliest civilizations that built with⏤ surprise ⏤ ramps.


Information on the Internet about the construction of the great cities and monuments of the Mesoamerican and South American cultures is surprisingly hard to find, it turns out.

McCoy Fields: Relatively Young Dude

Not So Ancient: Me

The Aztecs were real tricky to find stuff on. Almost every supposed "source" detailing its construction techniques immediately starts going on about how they sacrificed people during construction, then doesn't bother to actually discuss the techniques they used. I'm no trained historian, but that seems like sensationalism to me, and it sure doesn't answer my questions.

There are a few interesting tidbits out there, though. Teotihuacan, one of the major Aztec sites, was actually constructed over a thousand years before the Aztecs gained power, by someone else entirely.

The Inca and Mayan empires have a bit more out there to easily find. I had to dig through a lot of nonsense about Mayan prophecies and their mass disappearance, but there was a lot of good stuff. Like this: They actually used a primitive form of limestone-based concrete for much of their construction.

That First Step is a Doozy

One Small Step for a Spring Chicken

The Incans were the easiest to find information on, since most of the stuff on the Internet is about their construction techniques anyhow. Their buildings were famed for being constructed of huge stone blocks in irregular patterns that for together perfectly, without gaps. You can't even stick a knife between the stones.

People go crazy over that, some even going so far as to say that there were aliens helping the Incans. (Some nuts out there.) I think it says more about contractors today than it does about ancient construction. Tight seams just take good workmanship.

The stones in Incan constructions were placed by dragging them up huge earthen ramps on log rollers. Interestingly enough, they took the opposite approach to the ramps than the Egyptians, who just put together giant straight ramps. The reason they could do that when the Egyptians couldn't is pretty simple: the Incan Empire was huge. It was basically the Rome of South America. It could afford to just throw manpower at problems until they were solved.

They did save a little money by using locally quarried limestone or granite, but the empire was wealthy and powerful enough that it could have shipped them halfway across Peru on their excellent system of roads if the whim overtook them. We have tons of archaeological evidence for the Incan ramps, and a few—even still—partially exist.

The Yard Ramp Guy®: (Fork) Lifting Toward 2020

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy begins his blog with a quotation from Oscar Wilde. That's all I really needed. And then his blog just got better and better.

Read his consistently fine perspective HERE.

Mapping the World

The Ortelius Theatrum

And lawn care.

The world map from Theatrum Orbis Terrarum

These days you don't see atlases very often. Google Maps are just much more prevalent and often more useful. Atlases are unquestionably a direct ancestor of Google Maps, however. The oldest ever atlas? The Theatrum Orbis Terrarumor “Theatre of the World.” (Sorry, no Greek mythology jokes for you today.)

Originally published in May 1570, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, was written by the mapmaker Abraham Ortelius (my favorite Brabantian). It contained a total of 53 maps, all bound together. Despite being a skilled mapmaker himself, all the maps included were from other mapmakers. (Though he frequently tidied them up a bit.)

Unusually for the time, Ortelius actually credited all 33 mapmakers in the bibliography. He also included a list of other quality mapmakers he knew in the back, which grew longer with every edition published during his lifetime.

Ortelius published 25 editions in his lifetime, the last of which contained 167 maps and was published in seven different languages. Naturally, I hold much admiration for someone who devoted such time and painstaking care to improve on such a singular undertaking. I’d like to think that Maggie thinks of my work on, say, the lawn, with such approval. Though Maggie might say otherwise.

(Confirming: Maggie just said otherwise.)

Theatrum Orbis Terrarum was hugely significant. Not only was it vital in pushing forward the navigational feats of the Age of Exploration, it also is considered to be the starting point for the Dutch Golden Age of Cartography, which lasted a solid century.

The maps included in Theatrum Orbis Terrarum were remarkably accurate for their time. Possibly even more importantly, it made geography accessible to the growing middle classes at the time, who hadn't been able to easily afford maps before this.

It massively improved the state of public education at the time, and made the world a more understandable and less mysterious place. That’s a good thing, right?

The Yard Ramp Guy®: Angling Ramps Into Warehouses

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy follows the flow of warehouse scenarios and eloquently shows that many of those streams run through yard ramps.

Check out his great piece HERE.

A Really Old Wooden Ship

Or: IKEA is So Fourth Dynasty

Shipbuilding

Pick, Pack, and . . . Ship?

The world's oldest intact ship is, unsurprisingly, Egyptian. Specifically, it's the funeral barge for Khufu, also known as King Cheops, a pharaoh from the Fourth Dynasty of the Egyptian Old Kingdom. (You might know him as the guy who commissioned the Great Pyramid of Giza.)

Khufu's ship was discovered in 1954 by archaeologist Kamal el-Mallakh, who found the disassembled ship sealed into a pit in the bedrock near Giza. Aside from being disassembled, he found the ship in almost perfect condition, thanks to the ancient Egyptians having sealed it away in the desert bedrock.

The ship itself is built of Lebanon cedar, a material historically highly prized in shipbuilding, among other uses. It's mentioned several times in the Old Testament. Lebanon cedar is so embedded in the history of the region that it's the national emblem of Lebanon, and we see it on the national flag.

The cedar planks (before the ship was disassembled for storage) were held together with mortise and tenon joints, lashed together with cords of halfah grass fiber. (Only millennia later did we start using nails for shipbuilding.)

The ship was probably intended to serve as the pharaoh’s “solar barge,” a vessel to carry Khufu across the heavens with the sun god Ra. Interestingly, though watertight and seaworthy, there wasn't any rigging for sails or room for actual paddling. There was, however, evidence that it had been in the water at some point.

Remember I mentioned that it was found disassembled, and yet is considered the world's oldest intact ship? Despite being stored disassembled, it was painstakingly rebuilt by Ahmed Youssef Moustafa, an antiquities restorer. Took him years to learn the methods of ancient Egyptian boat construction, examining carved reliefs of boat construction in Egyptian tombs, other preserved boats, and the methods of modern Egyptian shipwrights. Moustafa’s reconstruction of the boat took 14 years in all.

The most important aspect of the reconstruction process? The parts of the ship were all laid out in a logical order when disassembled, and markings were put on each of the planks to show where they lined up.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? The ancient Egyptians basically gave the pharaoh an IKEA boat for the afterlife.

The Yard Ramp Guy®: The Future of Industry

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy takes a Ramp Rules-worthy look at this whole Industry 4.0 business and decides, to my relief, that humans remain important.

Check out his great insight HERE.

Your House is a Fossil Museum

Or: Kitty Litter Paleontology

My watchdog never needs walking.

We usually think of fossils in the context of museums, but you might be surprised to hear that they're probably in your home without you knowing.

The first way this happens is pretty obvious: if you've got limestone as part of the construction of your house. Limestone is almost universally fossil-bearing. In fact, many types of limestone are almost entirely made up of fossils. So, if you have limestone in your house, you've probably got fossils.

Of course, fossils can be found in other rocks as well, such as certain sandstones and mudstones, though limestone is the most common fossil-bearing rock used in construction.

Next is in kitty litter. Bentonite clays are used in countless industrial settings, but they also have one extremely common use inside the home—as the main ingredient of most kitty litter products. Bentonite clay is highly absorbent, making it ideal for this purpose.

Another thing bentonite clay is famous for? Occurring near fossil formations. The Morrison Formation, the geological formation where Dinosaur National Monument is found, is also heavily mined for bentonite clay. There have also been plenty of reports of kitty litter mining companies in Canada knowingly destroying fossil beds for more profit. So... your cat might be doing its business in dinosaur bits.

Third is diatomaceous earth. This fine white powder is frequently used as a cleaning product in the home. Applications of it can kill many types of insect infestations. The actual mechanism by which it does so is a little complicated, but it essentially dehydrates the insects to death. (Sometimes it's also used in kitty litter.) Diatomaceous earth is a sedimentary rock composed entirely of fossilized diatoms, a type of ocean-going microorganism that grows a silica-based shell.

Finally, there's good old-fashioned chalk. Chalk is simply an accumulation of the shells of tiny marine microorganisms, just like diatomaceous earth. Instead of being formed of silica-shelled organisms, however, it's formed out of calcite-shelled organisms known as coccolithophores. (Interestingly, the Cretaceous is actually named after the fact that more chalk was deposited around the world than during any other geological era—not, as you might expect, due to anything to do with dinosaurs.)

So, whenever your kids are drawing on the sidewalk with chalk, they're drawing with fossils.

The Yard Ramp Guy®: Honoring Industry Partners

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy discusses a gaggle of types of "sand pads" and then settles on one in particular that's part of his inventory. It's a fascinating read.

Check out his blog HERE.