Early Uses of Asbestos


Early Uses of Asbestos

Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring metamorphic minerals: chrysotile, tremolite, actinolite, amosite, crocidolite, and anthophyllite. Once viewed as a “miracle mineral,” asbestos was commonly used as an insulator. Many ancient cultures valued it for its resistant to heat and fire, and strength properties.

Ancient Egyptians Considered Asbestos “Mineral of the Gods”

As early as 3000 B.C., Ancient Egyptians recognized the heat keeping properties of asbestos and sewed it into their clothing. It was also mixed with clay to make pottery that could withstand heat.

They also embalmed the pharaohs with it. Egyptologists and Greek and Roman historians provided scientific evidence that lamps were burning when the underground tombs of the dead were sealed. Later, witnesses reported that lamps were still burning when the chambers were opened hundreds of years later. The lams contained asbestos wicks. When soaked in oil, they could burn for centuries without a restock of fuel.

Greeks Discovered Quarry in the Greek Islands

In the first century A.D., geographer Strabo identified the first asbestos quarry on the Island of Evvoia. Fibrous stone-like threads were combed and spun like wool in the process of making cloth-like products such as cloaks, tablecloths, and theater curtains. The mineral’s name was “amiantus,” a Greek word that means “resistance to fire.”

Romans Were the First Commercial Mines of Asbestos

The Romans quarried asbestos from all over Europe and the Mediterranean. It was used in hundreds of products because it is durable, insulates well, and resists fire and corrosion.  Romans used it in their building materials. They wove asbestos fibers into fabric to make towels, nets, and women’s head coverings. It was thought to have been used in the everlasting flame that was kept alight by the Vestal Virgins.

Persians Used Asbestos for Embalming

The Persians imported ‘stone wool’ from India. When they burned the bodies of their dead, they first wrapped them in linen called linum vivum, woven from the stone asbestos. This cloth wouldn’t burn so the ashes were preserved and kept safe to be put into the sepulcher.

Medieval Europeans Thought that Asbestos Had Supernatural Powers

In medieval times asbestos was used as insulation in suits of armor. Emperor Charlemagne supposedly used an asbestos tablecloth to convince barbarians that he had supernatural powers. He threw it into a fire and pulled it out undamaged. There are also accounts of medieval merchants selling asbestos crosses, claiming their resistance to fire was because they were made from the wood of ‘the true cross.’

Despite some early references to adverse health effects, it was not until the first documented death in 1906 that the health effects of asbestos use began to be called into question.

For over three decades GPW has worked defending the rights of construction tradesmen, chemical plant workers, and many other working men and women. Whether from long-term asbestos or chemical exposure, occupational injuries, or off-the-job accidents (medical malpractice, car accidents, defective drugs), we have helped thousands of people recover damages after a personal injury.

We are one of the  largest law firms in Western Pennsylvania defending the rights of injured people. Contact us today!

Ross, Malcolm & Nolan, Robert P. “History of asbestos discovery and use and asbestos-related disease in context with the occurrence of asbestos within the ophiolite complexes.” [link]
Egyptian Streets. (March 3, 2019). [link]
United Nations of Roma Victrix, “ASBESTOS IN THE ROMAN EMPIRE” [link]

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