The Importance of the Ultra-alkaline Volcanic Nature of the Raw Materials to the Ductility of Roman Marine Concrete
Roman-era concrete is the iconic embodiment of long-term physicochemical resilience. We investigated the basis of this behavior across scales of observations by coupling time-lapse (4-D) tomographic imaging of macroscopic mechanical stressing with structural microscopy and chemical spectroscopy on Roman marine concrete (RMC) from ancient harbors in Italy and Israel. Stress-strain measurements revealed that RMC creeps and exhibits a ductile deformation mode. The permeability of specimens from Italy were found to be low due to increased matrix-aggregate bonding. Structural and chemical imaging shows the presence of well-developed sulfur-rich, fibrous minerals that are intertwined and embedded in a crossbred matrix having the chemical traits of both a calcium-aluminum-silicate-hydrate and a geopolymer. This latter likely reflects the ultra-alkaline volcanic nature of the primary source materials. We hypothesize that the fine interweave of sulfur-rich fibers within this crossbred matrix enhances aggregate bonding, which altogether contributes to the durability of RMC.