Essay: History of Construction Technology of 12 Periods in Western Civilization

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History Of Construction Technology of 12 Periods in Western Civilization

What makes humans different from other animals can be attributed to many things, but it usually begins with our conscious choice to explore the world and separate ourselves from nature through some mastery of it. With the advent of agriculture, humans were now congregating in population centers and living for both themselves and their gods. Religion has always taken a guiding hand through history and is intimately connected to the history of construction itself.

What pushes man to go beyond himself and create structures of immense stature and/or beauty? Only Gods can do that and have done that as evidenced in the still standing great pyramid of Giza and the Parthenon in Athens. Building these monuments to divinity itself required sophistication that was possible through the discovery and practice of mathematics.

It is said that mathematics is both the language of God and science, and indeed it has opened up the potential of mankind in ways that would have been previously impossible. Looking towards our place in the universe by building temples situated accurately to corresponding stars in the sky is only possible through a grasp of mathematics and innovation in simple machines.

From Mesopotamia through to the Industrial Revolution, the progress of mankind in the realm of construction and architecture starts out as all children do with tentative steps, followed by assured steps, and ending with a still running sprint. All innovations in construction are built on the shoulders of those who have come before and the knowledge they had achieved in service to their religion and culture. The guiding hands of production have been religion, culture, and war alternately, but the end result has been progress that continues today past the thousands of years of technological innovation. The foundations to all of these innovations however, start with the simple lever, pulley, and screw coupled with imagination and knowledge. From these humble beginnings great cities throughout Western civilization have been built.

Mesopotamia

The early cultures of Mesopotamia acted as a catalyst to human civilization as a whole with the advancements and discoveries occurring between 6000 and 3000 B.C. During these ancient times the Babylonians, people of the Bronze Age, created a written alphabet and discovered mathematics -- the language of science. For early peoples, mathematics was a tool used for necessity in their architectural and construction designs, but the foundation it created for future cultures and centuries is invaluable (Boyer).

The need for advanced construction and design was predicated by the shift towards agriculture which did not require a roaming Bedouin lifestyle. Dwellings that were impermanent only required the use of mud brick, which was a natural fit for the material of choice due to the resources available and the climate therein (Darby). Mud brick construction was simple with the only baking required being a drying out under the hot sun (Bilkadi). To suggest that structures were primitive however would be incorrect as Mesopotamians fashioned their homes and temples to include architectural features like columns, domes, and arches (Darby). In fact, bricks would be used in place of wood, a scarce commodity in the ancient dessert region, to create features as complex as ziggurats (Roth). This was possible through the innovation of tunnel or barrel vaulting which arranged bricks in a circular configuration along a determined line (Roth). These ziggurats would be the precursors of future cathedrals and public works (Faiella).

Being able to stay in one area created populations centers, or cities, that evolved further into governed areas with laws. Cities also need civic projects and so construction methods evolved out of this necessity. Reinforcement of the traditional mud brick material was done through the addition of bitumen, also known as tar (International Finance Corporation of the World Bank Group). This Geosynthetic Reinforced Soil was one of the first steps in being able to set more lasting foundations, with tar reinforcing the bricks while also being used as a waterproofing and adhesive agent (Moorey). Tar itself had been used as building material thousands of years prior in the cultures of the Tigress-Euphrates region which combined it with marsh reeds to create a sort of plaster (Bilkadi). Brick shape than evolved from a traditional loaf shape to a planoconvex shape that is flat one side and convex on the other, and rather than lying in the sun these bricks were heated in kilns (Moorey).

As more permanent buildings were created, mathematics came into play to create geometric forms and patterns that festooned the interior of the people's temples (Boyer). City-states with their stronger more lasting buildings and population growth required civil engineering when it came to water systems and it is with water that the pump and wheel came into play. The earliest known type of pump was the Archimedes screw used in Babylon circa 3rd century B.C. (Dalley & Olson). The wheel, arguably the greatest human invention of early history was invented during the 5th millennium B.C. And used as a potter's wheel. Wheels, in fact, were first mostly likely used in industrial and manufacturing applications than as a transportation method, seen on chariots in 3200 B.C. (Sax, Meeks, and Collon). It is almost impossible to downplay the importance of the wheel and its impact on mankind due to its appearance in nearly all machines developed since the start of the Industrial Revolution (Yenne and Grosser).

Ancient Egypt

Existing concurrent to the Mesopotamians, Egyptian culture evolved construction methods like ziggurats into the towering pyramids that exist today. The Pharaohs and overall religious culture played a huge role in developing the need for building projects, with statues and funereal chambers being favorite creations of the various rulers at any given time. This created an entire class of craftsman and engineers (What is Civil Engineering).

Knowledge of ancient Egyptian construction has been collected mainly through archeological findings. The buildings themselves act as the only historical records and can give answers up to a certain point since they were constructed over successive generations, leaving questions about how the large building blocks were moved a mystery. The order of construction is unknown as to whether a core was constructed first or if casing stones were placed and beveled to the overall incline angle in a frame which was filled in with successive core blocks (Kostoff). The stones used were quarried in locations far removed from the actual site without the advent of iron tools, "They never learned to harden copper, so, although they had both saws and drills of copper, the tough granite of Aswan had to be split from the rock face, first by hammering vertical trenches into the rock with balls or hammers of a hard rock called dolorite and then by driving in wedges either of metal or of wood that was soaked in water until it expanded" (Nuttgens). With only stone, wood, and cooper for use as tools it is believed that workers used an intricate system of wooden levers to detach blocks and cut granite with copper saws (Lehner).

The invention of surveying tools allowed Egyptians to align pyramids precisely against astronomical points (Shaw). Indeed the pyramids are the most accurately surveyed stone structures in the world (Coppens). Plumb bobs, leveling instruments, measuring ropes, as well as sighting instruments were all used in the creation of the various canals and pyramids. Two main leveling instruments were used: the water level tool and the a-frame level which consisted of a plumb bob suspended from an apex (Root). These innovations were possible through understanding of isosceles triangles, further emphasizing the usefulness of mathematics and its role in evolving the field of construction (Patel).

Another engineering feat used in the construction of the pyramids is corbelling which influenced arch and tunneling techniques. Egyptians were already versed in barrel vaulting, used in early Mesopotamian culture (Edwards), but they stepped further with the corbel vault which creates an arch using a piece of stone, called a corbel, that juts out from the wall and supports any incumbent weight, such as another stone (Lehner).

The mention of stone as a building material is an example of evolution from the mud brick which was previously used for tomb construction in the First and Second Dynasties (Edward). Stone was introduced first in the construction of a private monument for Imhotep (Edwards). Beyond the problem of carving and procuring stone which for the pyramids was limestone with the King's Chamber being granite, quarries were located an astounding 400 miles south of Gizeh. This required an immense workforce to transport thousands of tons hundreds of miles (Coppens).

The use of ramps was an obvious component in pyramid building and is one of the enduring contributions to construction as a whole. It has been suggested that a system of at least five different ramps may have been used to move millions of blocks into position (Heizer). Linear ramps stand as the most direct methods and were used in the Third Dynasty, but their use would have been rare… [END OF PREVIEW]

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