Can that be true?
A scene from 18th century Rome by Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Veduta della Piazza di Monte Cavallo (View of the Piazza del Quirinale with the Statues of Horse Tamers in side view), from Prianesi's Vedute di Roma. Note the marble columns just ready to be rolled away and repurposed. These statues are still standing in Rome, notably not-broken up, although there's now an obelisk between them.
Sometimes you read something so astounding that you have to wonder, "can that possibly be true?"
I have to admit that this happens to me on a daily basis, and not always about current events.
Earlier in the week I read this off the cuff comment in a recent article in the Atlantic Monthly magazine (My Night in the Sistine Chapel, by Cullen Murphy)
"For centuries, the bountiful supply of ancient statuary unearthed in Rome had been burned for lime to make mortar..."
The author makes the point that for centuries, ancient Roman statues were more valuable as a source of raw marble than as beautiful works of art. (Key insight: marble can be burned above 840°C to convert the calcium carbonate into calcium oxide, commonly called quicklime, is an essential ingredient to make concrete).
That threw me. The image of folks just tossing works of art into the kiln to make quicklime just killed me. It's the kind of thing that makes you say "really?"
I did a little SRS and found the answer. Fascinating journey that I thought you might enjoy.
1. Is that sentence true? Once upon a time did people in Rome just burn ancient marble statuary in order to make quicklime for construction purposes?
2. (Just for fun..) I know of at least one other surprising use of ancient materials for the most prosaic of purpose--can you figure out what that other ancient material is (was)?
As always, let us know your thought process. HOW did you figure out your answer? Let us know so we can learn to be better investigators of the mysterious and puzzling!