Monday Pop Quiz: Water Pump

It’s the start of the working week for most of the world. For those of struggling with Monday blues I thought I’d make life interesting with a little pop quiz.

Please look at the images below and choose the correct answer. (Apologies for all the reflection in the photograph- museum lighting is not always best designed for smart phone photographs)

Bronze water pump found in Spanish mines
Bronze water pump found in Spanish mines but from which era?

The images shows a water pump made out of bronze.

Bronze water pump component
Bronze water pump component

It is supposed that the pump could have worked in this way: Cold water was forced through the two cylindrical entrances on the sides of the pump into the main vertical chamber. Once the pressure built up to a sufficiently high level, a jet of high pressure water was directed on pre-heated rocks. The impact of high pressure cold water on heated rocks would make the rocks shatter or disintegrate making it easier for people to extract the minerals in the rocks. The water pump was used in the mines in Spain. This pump specifically in the Mines of Sotiel-Coronada in Huelva, Spain.

Question: From what you see of the pump in the images and the description you have read, when do you think the pump was in use?

A. Around the Industrial Revolution (Mid 18th to Early 19th Century CE)
B. 13th Century CE
C. 1st Century CE

The correct answer is that this spectacularly sophisticated device was used during the Ancient Roman times. I know right? I am surely not the first person to wonder how people who had such sophisticated tech didn’t land up inventing the steam engine. I guess that was because the Romans didn’t need a steam engine. That’s the dance of time for you.

Spain was a source of immense rich resources for Rome. The regions mineral deposits had been mined right from the Copper Age. Spain supplied silver to Phoenicians and then to the Carthaginians and then ultimately to Rome. In their avarice and material culture, ancient Rome was in every way the equal of modern humanity so they went bonkers over the mines in Spain and extracted immense quantities of silver.

In fact researchers working on data from ice-caps in Greenland were able to trace cycles of prosperity and depression in Roman times based on the amount of lead they found in the ice sheets from the Roman times. When silver ore was mined, there was a significant amount of lead released into the atmosphere. In fact studies postulate that the amount of lead that was released during the Roman times remained unequaled until after the Industrial revolution. Read more here.

It’s an interesting thought exercise to try and work out what might have happened if the industrial revolution had kicked in during Ancient Roman times rather than later. Of course we will never know for sure. Incidentally I read a graphic novel late last year called Rome West. It deals with a hypothetical squadron of Roman ships that lose their path in a gale and land up in America, centuries before Columbus. The book traces the development of this westernmost colony of Rome. An interesting concept that started off really well but didn’t hold well in the second half. That is of course the problem with any alternate history.

Rome West

So what did you think?

Maybe you can indulge in some interesting historical thought exercises this Monday 🙂

Have a great week.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. neihtn2012 says:

    Very interesting! I would not have thought the first century Romans had it.

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      It was surprising to me as well. Just the level of sophistication

  2. Lav says:

    Something so functional looks so elegant!

  3. Nirmala says:

    So Amazing and mind blowing to know ancient Romans had all this!!!

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      Yes they had more than we think they did

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