Thursday, June 30, 2016

Carthago refrigeranda est

NEO-PUNIC WATCH: Carthage archaeologists dig up smart cooling system for chariot racers. The ancients were madly obsessed by chariot racing 2000 years ago but in the heat of North Africa, the horses would have fainted. (Philippe Bohstrom, Haaretz).
On the north coast of Africa lie the ruins of a city that came within a hairbreadth of defeating the might of Rome. Now archaeologists digging at the famous Circus of Carthage have revealed a startlingly advanced system to cool down horses and chariots during races.

The ancients were obsessed with chariot racing. More than a half-century on, the chariot race in the 1959 Hollywood blockbuster "Ben-Hur" is still one of the most memorable scenes in cinemascope history. But even horses can faint, certainly in the burning heat of North Africa.

Key to the discovery of the clever cooling system at the Circus of Carthage, the biggest sporting arena outside Rome, was the detection of water resistant mortar.

“This kind of mortar is called hydraulic mortar. It's a type of waterproof lime mortar mixed with crushed and pulverized ceramics that the Romans used in hydraulic engineering,” says Frerich Schön of Tübingen University, the water technology specialist who first spotted the material, to Haaretz.

Most stories about Carthage involve the Punic Wars, so it's nice to have something on the archaeology of its Neo-Punic period. There's lots more on Ben-Hur (the novel, the O2 production, and the movies) and its chariot race here and links.