Stone is no defense & the bravery of horses

Eleanor Konik

Eleanor Konik

Professionally, I teach pre-teens about ancient civilizations. In my downtime, I enjoy combining storytelling with my love of sharing obscure history and science.


A couple of academic books I've read lately have talked about the coral architecture of Swahili coast and I've been meaning to look into it some more because it sounds cool, so I was pretty excited when I finally got a minute to dig into it while working out the details of the architectural style of the island culture my latest short story is set in.

Quick Facts

  • Roman mortar was a lot more durable than modern concrete thanks to some nifty chemical properties of the local volcanic ash.
  • Ancient Egyptians used horses and carriages to carry supplies up scaffolding, which sounds terrifying and I'm pretty sure counts as definitive proof that horses are braver than I am.
  • The Egyptian pyramids were built out of a combination of limestone, granite, gypsum and rubber.
  • European castles were often built with a combination of masonry stone and limestone plaster.
  • Brick is considered man's oldest manufactured product.

Mangrove Rooms

By the 13th century, the Swahili coast was dotted with palaces and houses built out of coral. Mangrove poles formed the ceilings, which was the main limiter of room size, so small rooms a common feature of coastal coral architecture.

Set In Coral

Because constructing buildings from stone and coral is a lot more costly and time-consuming than wooden or wattle-and-daub architecture, archaeologists believe the coral buildings along the Swahili Coast offered a stabilizing effect. Innovation and change is more difficult when it requires  renovating stone structures.

Cut Stone

The great stone-walled structures of the capital city of the Zimbabwe kingdom, Great Zimbabwe, were built without mortar yet remain standing centuries later. They're 36ft (11m) tall, which is pretty impressive for mortarless construction.  The stones seem smaller and less complex than Inca masonry, though.

No Defense

Jericho, the oldest-known city, is also home to the oldest known stone wall. They both predate local development of agriculture, and anthropologists don't think it was built for defensive purposes at all, but rather to be impressive. It may have served some ritual purposes as well.

📗 ICYMI: If you found this interesting, you may also enjoy my article about how civilizations thrive in adverse environments.

💚 If you learned something from this overview, consider forwarding it to a friend and encouraging them to sign up for more research deep dives into obscure history and science.

🏯 What's the neatest masonry architecture you know of?


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