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Ancient Repair Techniques Uncovered

The news that satellite images have revealed existence of previously undiscovered pyramids and other structures in Egypt prompted your blogger to try and imagine what archaeologists in the third millennia would make of our modern day buildings and, of course, the way we try and maintain them.

(Report from Solar System News, June 1st 3011)

Robotic excavators digging deep in the volcanic deposits that cover the island group once known as Britain have made a number of discoveries that offer some astonishing insights into the way ancient civilisations lived, and in particular, the buildings they inhabited.

It is of course known that the British Isles were buried deep beneath ash, pyroclasts and other debris blasted into the atmosphere when a group of volcanoes erupted in Iceland almost a thousand years ago. And as with the fall-out from the Icelandic banking disaster a few years earlier, England and its dependent states were worst hit: with most towns and cities and their famous buildings being destroyed.

While there are countless images of medieval castles, royal palaces and places like the Houses of Parliament, no records survive of buildings from the time of the eruptions.  These remarkable new finds, however, for the first time reveal the diverse and frequently flawed ways in which the ancient inhabitants of Britain went about building their homes and other facilities.

It appears that in the early 2000s construction workers were mainly site based, with a large proportion using hand tools to build in masonry and timber – with little advancement in techniques from previous centuries; although there is evidence of prefabricated structures featuring steel and composite materials.  What is more the finds – that include one specialist operative’s hand-held computer – indicate that an incredible amount of building work resulted in accidental damage, with the affected components often  actually being removed and taken to mass communal burial sites – known to archaeologists as tips or ‘middens’.

The details came to light when the scientific robots sifting the ash retrieved a device apparently known as a ‘Mobile Finisher’, or palm pilot, which was part of the equipment carried by employees of a company called Plastic Surgeon. It appears this was a nationwide firm of highly skilled tradesmen who toured the country, putting right all the defects caused by widely used, but imperfect working practices.

While most builders relied on verbal or paper based communication systems, Plastic Surgeon’s finishers received work instructions electronically, as well as being able to send back reports, billing information and images of the damage dealt with if they needed technical clarification. Incredibly, it seems fittings in bathrooms, kitchens and other parts of properties were regularly scratched, chipped and dented by artisans dropping their tools, using naked flames or even ramming them with a cumbersome hand transport device known as a “wheelbarrow.”

As a result finishers spent their time filling, straightening, smoothing, colour matching and polishing as many as three or four different items an hour as they helped the main contractors complete buildings ready for occupation; and even working around the end users when damage occurred as a result of everyday life.

Intriguingly, a 2010 communication from Plastic Surgeon’s Managing Director, Rob Mouser, refers to the building industry being concerned about sustainability and the “quest for immaculate construction.” While the company obviously went a long way towards helping its clients achieve perfection, Plastic Surgeon’s growth as a company in the years before the Icelandic Caldera catastrophe shows that accidental damage was one of the UK construction industry’s biggest problems at the time.

Historians believe that when they have completed the recovery of data from the Plastic Surgeon hand-held computer, it could eventually prove to be an even more significant archaeological find than the Vindolanda tablets that were recovered close to Hadrian’s Wall in the 20th century.

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