I ate my wafer...


So, I'm part of several interesting email conversations at the moment, and I realized that some of the websites involved might make an interesting blog post:

A. I've been aware of the German flak tower system since reading the IMPACT books in 5th grade, but just discovered that some of the giant, castle-like structures still exist. The extremely cool Urban Exploration website, UER, has a nice pictorial article on the flak towers, with a number of photos of the Berlin towers. If giant concrete castles with room for 20,000 people and massive artillery wasn't cool enough, enterprising Germans have converted the side of the Berlin G-tower into a climbing wall! Even though my climbing ability is not particularly impressive, falling somewhere between wine-tasting and welding on my personal spectrum of skills, I would love to try it.

B. UER also has a brief, though interesting pictorial of Ur. The archeology of Ur is certainly fascinating in and of itself, with religious significance and buried treasure, but I find the chemistry aspects particularly interesting. That is, various petroleum derivatives, such as bitumen were widely used by the ancient inhabitants of Ur.

Although at the time, the Babylonians were more interested in the waterproofing and cementing properties of bitumen, they exported a great deal to Egypt for mummification purposes. (I highly recommend The Mummy Congress, by Heather Pringle for an excellent, and very readable discussion of mummification).

Although the Egyptians and Greeks get all the press, the Babylonians had some pretty interesting chemistry of their own, such as, believe it or not, effective pH based home pregnancy tests. Not to mention that by 850AD, the inhabitants of Mesopotamia were distilling light-fraction petroleum products, such as naphtha in vast quantities. (Which means that you could probably get functional diesel for your car, and certainly fuel for your Zippo in a 9th century bazaar.)

But back to bitumen: due to a darkly-humorous, but gruesome, mistranslation of the Arabic word mumiya (bitumen) and confusion between mummification and medical uses of petroleum products, Western Europeans spent some 500+ years grinding up mummified corpses for consumption as a medical drug. Disgusting isn't it?


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