Ancient construction materials

Some ancient construction materials have lasted thousands of years of weathering and use and yet structures still stand today. The ruins of the Roman empire, for example, span from England to the Middle East encompassing a broad spectrum of climate and seismic zones. The Romans used concrete as their primary building material using locally sourced materials as the raw components. The mortar that has remained for thousands of years was manufactured at significantly lower temperatures than modern Portland cement and has a proven lifetime that is longer today’s design life for infrastructure. This is why we are looking for inspiration from ancient mortars to design new building materials that are less energy intensive and more durable than today’s alternatives. Our goal is to achieve the following:

  1. Use multi-scale characterization techniques to identify compounds, crystal phases, remnants of raw materials and microstructures in a variety of ancient mortar samples.

  2. Correlate microstructure and constituents to material properties of interest such as strength, durability and environmental footprint (e.g. embodied carbon and energy).

  3. Develop a model that will optimize the material characteristics for given conditions, such as raw material availability or target carbon footprint, to provide a starting point for alternative cementitious material design.

The project includes studies in the Privernum archaeological site and museums network of Priverno where the original raw materials from the Roman era (see  figure) can be found. These materials were used in building and decorations from different well-documented construction eras.


Collaborators: Roberto Scalesse, Margherita Cancellieri, Gilberto Quarneti, James Weaver



Original raw materials found in the Privernum archaeological site and used in buildings and decorations. Wall paintings with original pigment fragments (a), various types of milled ceramic (b) and sand (c), fragment of lime (d) and bricks and stones for floor decorations.