Monks’ Secret: Asbestos Lurking Beneath Byzantine Wall Paintings

By Joseph Castro, http://www.livescience.com

monk asbestos

Hundreds of years before asbestos became ubiquitous in the construction industry, Byzantine monks used the fibrous material in plaster coatings underlying their wall paintings during the late 1100s, new research shows.

Asbestos is a type of natural, rock-forming mineral known for its ability to separate into long, flexible fibers. It has long been thought that asbestos fibers, which are corrosion- and combustion-resistant, were first integrated into such things as plaster, finish coatings and floors after the Industrial Revolution.

But while investigating the 12th-century paintings in the Byzantine monastery Enkleistra of St. Neophytos in Cyprus, UCLA researchers discovered the magnesium silicate mineral, chrysotile (white asbestos), in the finish coating of the plaster underneath a portion of a wall painting. The chrysotile provided a smooth layer with a mirrorlike surface for the painting.

“[The monks] probably wanted to give more shine and different properties to this layer,” said UCLA archaeological scientist Ioanna Kakoulli, lead author of the new study, published online last month in the Journal of Archaeological Science. “It definitely wasn’t a casual decision — they must have understood the properties of the material.” Read More

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Posted on May 12, 2014, in Asbestos, Education, Remediation/Renovation and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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