Asphalt Through The Ages

It might surprise you to know that asphalt paving has been around for longer than you might think.


Its first usage probably came in south east Mesopotamia – modern day Iraq.

Natural traces of asphalt have been found in the area which bridges the Nile in Egypt, up to the flow of the Indus in India.


It is possible that the legend of Moses in the reeds was borrowed from a very similar tale, of King Sargon of Accad (Iraq). As an infant he was put into a reed basket which had an asphalt coating on it.

Coating boats of all types was one of the first uses for asphalt and it is even to be found in the Bible as a probable coating for Noah’s Ark!

The exact wording of the biblical text refers to the vessel being coated with a substance known as ‘pitch’ – on both the inside and the outside – to ensure it was watertight.

Asphalt has long been used to seal canoes and dugouts from the water.

And bulrushes and ‘pitch’ to create a safe, water resistant vessel was not limited to the legend of Moses in the Bible.

It was still being used, right up until modern day. As late as the sixties, it was in use in Baghdad, on boats known as guffas, which transported people across the Tigris.

There has been evidence of asphalt in use in ancient Baghdad dating back to around 3000 BC.

Other early uses of asphalt include cementing bricks and waterproofing drains. It also was used to protect the outside of buildings from rain, water and weather.


Excavations have revealed that the walls the Babylonians built to hold back the river Euphrates contained asphalt.

The King Khammurabi (in 2200 BC) documented the respective costs for waterproofing homes and boats with asphalt.

The bricks, which were asphalt coated, have lasted the tests of time and are still in place to date.

From these excavations, we have discovered the constructions of another Babylonian king – Nebuchadnezzar.

Nebuchadnezzar was the king who innovated to protect against the flood waters which threatened his palace, by using asphalt.

This was after observing that the initial wall of dried bricks had not succeeded.

The King continued his usage of asphalt construction, when it was clear it worked in keeping out water and flooding. He went on to construct sewers using the material and also use asphalt in the construction of a pier.

These are a but a few of the earliest documented uses of asphalt through history – and there are many more!

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