Oddly Enough: June 2018

Oddly-Enough-LOGO-copyBy Russell Miller

During the time of Ancient Rome (roughly 1st century B.C.E. to 3rd century C.E.) as many as five merchant ships a day delivered goods to the city of Rome at the port of Ostia. That’s around 350 tons of cargo per year. Much of the merchandise was olive oil, transported in amphorae. Some clay pots held as much as 20 gallons of oil. Near this port is a structure called Monte Testaccio. It’s a mound rising over 115 feet in the air and it is composed entirely of broken amphorae.

ODDLY ENOUGH … There are an estimated 53 million broken pots collected in this landfill. Weirdly, the Romans, who were great at recycling and used crushed clay from pots to make concrete and pave roads, intentionally and systematically abandoned these containers.

BONUS ODDLY ENOUGH … During the 1600s, Monte Testaccio was a site used for jousting tournaments and pre-Lenten celebrations.

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In an attempt to reduce the amount of ivory consumed — for billiard balls, primarily — a $10,000 reward was offered in 1863 by the billiard game manufacturer Phelan & Collender to come up with a synthetic substitute. The Hyatt brothers, John Wesley and Isaiah Smith, both in the printing business, stumbled onto the solution quite by accident. They called this early plastic “celluloid.” It was quickly molded into such products as piano keys, combs, collar stays, buttons, toys, and eventually dentures.

ODDLY ENOUGH … Because of the unstable nature of the material, billiard balls and even dentures were known to occasionally explode, especially around heat — like fireplaces, oil lamps, and lit cigars.

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Russell Miller is an illustrator, cartoonist, writer, bagpiper, motorcycle enthusiast, and reference librarian. Currently, he illustrates books for Cody Lundin and Bart King.

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