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Learning more and knowing less

December 2, 2010

It seems the whole of the UK is blanketed with snow, and not much is happening – except here in our little patch of the West Country, where the only sign of trouble is the occasional car passing with a white coat on the roof.  But as an expression of solidarity  (or of sheer laziness) I’ve taken the morning off work and gone wandering around the Web. And I’ve hit a brick wall. Or rather, not a brick wall. Not even stone, or turf, that oddly clumsy building material beloved of Roman soldiers wanting a quick rampart without quarrying.

There I was, browsing innocently around Gary Corby’s blog when I came across his post on Geoff Carter, a chap who’s suggesting that Hadrian’s Wall was first built from – wood. You’ll have to check out Gary’s blog for the link to the report. (I’m not a completely shameless link-thief.)

While you’re there, spare a thought for an author whose books are set in Britain at the beginning of Hadrian’s reign and who was, until this morning, confidently looking forward to planning a story about the first builders.

Of course when you write a novel there are questions that history and archaeology can’t answer, and about which you have to take an educated guess. That’s half the fun of it. Sometimes you have to fudge around the obscurer details, and there’s always the danger that some eager soul with a trowel or a new research tool will discover something that disproves what we always knew to be true  – and make you look silly. But no matter how thick the fudge, even the least attentive of readers will spot the difference between a stonemason and a carpenter.

The Wall novel is only on the far horizon at the moment. With luck, by the time we get there, greater minds than mine will have reached a consensus about what the first builders were up to. Otherwise it’s going to be an interesting challenge…

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4 comments

  1. I had thought that concrete was a relatively modern building material, but Wikipedia tells me that the Romans made frequent use of it; though after the fall of the Empire the technology was lost for centuries.


    • Absolutely, Jonathan – a marvellous thing for building bath-houses and they even had some that would set under the sea (although don’t ask me how they got it there).
      The copy editor and I had some discussions on this very point in the first book, where I’d written some concrete-mixing into a building site scene and he queried it. It wasn’t essential so in the end I took it out, on the grounds that if people were going to read it and think, ‘Concrete? Surely not?’ it would be more of a distraction than it was worth.


  2. The worlds biggest unreinforced concrete dome is Roman, and still in use … the Pantheon in Rome.


    • Thank you Warren – a good point, and it certainly doesn’t look its age. Mind you, I do hope some of our current concrete offerings don’t last that long…



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