Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you simply can’t miss asphalt. The slick black substance comprises the very roads you drive on, as well as the shingles found on many homes. However, before it ended up beneath your feet and above your head, the ancients had quite different uses for asphalt.
In those days, asphalt went by another name: bitumen. The black pitch was commonly used to coat baskets and to waterproof ship hulls. The Sumerians even used the stuff as mortar to secure bricks in place. When refined and hardened, bitumen could be sculpted. Recent discoveries, meanwhile, point out that bitumen was wrongly thought to have been the stuff that the ancient Egyptians used to embalm their dead and during the mummification process.
Yet how exactly did a multipurpose product discovered in the ancient world end up as today’s preferred road-building material? The answer lies in asphalt’s unique characteristics. Aside from being exceptionally waterproof, asphalt is also incredibly durable and resistant to wear and tear so long as it is dried properly. It also holds up rather well against extreme temperatures. Indeed, asphalt has come a long way since ancient times and continues to benefit humanity in a number of different ways.