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Authors: Passchier, Cees W.
Bourgeois, Marcel
Viollet, Pierre-Louis
Sürmelihindi, Gül
Bernard, Vincent
Leveau, Philippe
Spötl, Christoph
Title: Reconstructing the hydraulics of the world’s first industrial complex, the second century CE Barbegal watermills, France
Online publication date: 26-Apr-2021
Year of first publication: 2020
Language: english
Abstract: The Barbegal watermill complex, a unique cluster of 16 waterwheels in southern France, was the first known attempt in Europe to set up an industrial-scale complex of machines during the culmination of Roman Civilization in the second century CE. Little is known about the state of technological advance in this period, especially in hydraulics and the contemporary diffusion of knowledge. Since the upper part of the Barbegal mill complex has been destroyed and no traces of the wooden machinery survived, the mode of operation of these mills has long remained elusive. Carbonate incrustations that formed on the woodwork of the mills were used to reconstruct its structure and function, revealing a sophisticated hydraulic setup unique in the history of water mills. The lower mills used an elbow shaped flume to bring water onto overshot millwheels. This flume was specially adapted to the small water basins and serial arrangement of the mills on the slope. Carbonate deposits from ancient water systems are therefore a powerful tool in archaeological reconstructions and provide tantalizing insights into the skills of Roman engineers during a period of history that is the direct predecessor of our modern civilization.
DDC: 550 Geowissenschaften
550 Earth sciences
Institution: Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Department: FB 09 Chemie, Pharmazie u. Geowissensch.
Place: Mainz
Version: Published version
Publication type: Zeitschriftenaufsatz
License: CC BY
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Journal: Scientific reports
Pages or article number: 17917
Publisher: Macmillan Publishers Limited, part of Springer Nature
Publisher place: London
Issue date: 2020
ISSN: 2045-2322
Publisher URL:
Publisher DOI: 10.1038/s41598-020-74900-5
Appears in collections:JGU-Publikationen

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