Self Healing Concrete and Knowledge Lost

Roman Bridge in the French Alps

This blog post grows out of number of things. An article on Self Healing Concrete, a conversation with my 98 year old neighbor, Mary and another conversation with my friend Jean. How lost knowledge is such a remarkable, but common place event. So many secrets are waiting to be rediscovered. We have been here before.


First let’s look at self healing concrete. Please read the article linked above for the full story, but here we have e crux of it:

“Previously disregarded as merely evidence of sloppy mixing practices, or poor-quality raw materials, the new study suggests that these tiny lime clasts gave the concrete a previously unrecognized self-healing capability.”

David L. Chandler | MIT News Office January 6, 2023

Lime clast gives ancient Roman concrete self healing qualities that have proved to be much more durable than what we produce today.

“Rome’s famed Pantheon, which has the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome and was dedicated in A.D. 128, is still intact, and some ancient Roman aqueducts still deliver water to Rome today. Meanwhile, many modern concrete structures have crumbled after a few decades.”

David L. Chandler | MIT News Office January 6, 2023

Not everything is as we have assumed. Ancient man was not as primitive as we thought. Maybe complex culture did not just spring out of nowhere. Whether the empire was Greek, Roman, portuguese or British. it was built an earlier ones.


We are always assuming that we know much more today, than cultures and civilizations of the past. That turns out to be only partly true. We still have much to discover from our forebears. We we “conveniently” forget again and again.

It makes me think of YDNA YSTRS, previously categorized by scientists as “junk DNA.” When I began my DNA journey the idea that there was DNA that served no purpose did not make any sense to me. It didn’t matter whether I knew the purpose—in my gut I believe nature is much smarter than we (humans) think we are. Turns out only about 2% of our DNA encodes for proteins, but the rest provides redundancy and its own self healing properties.

“even beyond the question of its functionality (or lack of it), researchers are beginning to appreciate how noncoding DNA can be a genetic resource for cells and a nursery where new genes can evolve.”

Jake Buheler The Complex Truth About ‘Junk DNA’


An old Valley Oak in the Napa Valley

A conversation yesterday with Mary, 98, we were talking about the 275 year old Valley Oak that tumbled over during our recent storms. Mary was born not more than a mile from where she lives now—and she is a storehouse of acquired knowledge and experience. She surprised me by saying, “Valley oaks often uproot along with (non-native) Eucalyptus trees.” They blow over in supersaturated soils during storms. She then said, “I have never seen a Live Oak topple that way.” And what is interesting is that Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia) is susceptible to sudden oak disease, but not Valley Oak (Quercus lobata). They both grow in interior valleys of California. Here is some wisdom based on experience and I am inclined to think I would rather have a live oak near my house than a similarly aged valley oak. Many of our very old valley oaks are under stress from years of drought and they are past the prime of their life cycles. Wisdom born of experience…


St Andrews Well, Stogursey, Somerset England

Jean and I have frequently talked about the wisdom of the past and how previous empires and civilizations were built on the foundations of earlier human knowledge. Holy sites are one place that there seems to be some memory of earlier incarnations. Holy wells and springs may go back thousands of years, or more. Many churches are built upon earlier “sacred sites.” A Celtic place of worship may have become a Roman one followed by an Anglo-Saxon church and finally a more modern one. The same is true of Celtic Hill forts often an earthwork located on an elevated location or rise for defensive advantages. They are typical in Bronze and Iron Age Europe. The Romans later built upon them and called them “oppidum.” As I have previously written about the hill fort at Lugdunum (Lyon, France) it is located well above the banks of the Saône River. How many of our cities and towns around the world are built on the banks of rivers , that periodically flood? What wisdom has been lost? The historical memory of nature that we largely ignore today.

But like a child’s game of telephone over centuries and millennium some of the knowledge and wisdom is lost, discounted, or simply ignored. I can’t help but muse on how much is lost in the onslaught of the “information age.” Especially when things move so quickly and anything old and ancient is dismissed as irrelevant. In humankind’s rush to control nature we have forgotten so much. We ignore nature’s wisdom at our peril.


Beaver dam and Aspen trees

Some of you know that I have long been interested in beavers. It began in my teens when I spent a year in Pennsylvania where I became well acquainted with a beaver colony on Cowley Run, near Sizerville State Park. I knew nothing about beavers when I began, but scoured the local library for everything I could find. And then spent many hours watching them as they came out at dusk. And in an interesting twist of fate my son, a Professor at Utah State University, is a fluvial geomorphologist with a special emphasis on river restoration. He with many others turned to beavers, known as nature’s engineers. Known as a keystone species this lowly rodent holds great promise in helping to rejuvenate our arid wildlands and help prevent soil erosion, flooding and provide protection from fires. Nearly hunted to extinction for their pelts, these fascinating creatures have much to teach us. For a great read I recommend Ben Goldfarb’s Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter. I think of my son’s elderly friend Jay whose knowledge of the history of his ranch in Idaho led to his quest to reintroduce beavers and let them set the land right again.

History and nature have much to teach us. From how we are to survive cataclysmic events from sea level rise to floods to fire storms. Nature and humans have seen these things before. Rather than demand nature to agree to our terms, perhaps we need to be be informed by the wisdom of our past. There’s another book I recommend specifically about water by Erica Gies, called Water Always Wins. we need to see ourselves not as wiser than nature—not wiser than the civilizations before us, but rather a part of a continuum. It’s not the latest IPhone or pursuit of worldly goods that will improve our lives. The oldest among us and their wealth of experience and knowledge are being squandered and ignored. What can they teach us before they are gone?

​“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

– George Santayana, The Life of Reason, 1905

As a genealogist and family historian I have always valued what my elders had to teach me. Many of my contemporaries could never understand that. Now reaching elder status myself, I wonder how much of what I have learned will be lost. I remember as a young teen after my grandfather died, how much of his wisdom I had not gained. How we each start anew chasing our tails rather than building on the hard fought knowledge of our elders. I don’t know how to fix that—but I know in my bones that it is of critical importance to our survival.

Kelly Wheaton ©2023 – All Rights Reserved

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