Asbestos, like most minerals has been around since the stone age. Asbestos naturally occurs on every continent. Archeologists uncovered asbestos fibers dating back to prehistoric times, some 750,000 years ago. The origin of the word is goes back to a latin idiom. “Amiantus” means unsoiled. This is because the Romans would use asbestos to make tablecloths and napkins. To clean these tablecloths and napkins they were thrown into a fire. When they were taken out of the fire they were clean and “unsoiled”.
It was figured out that even as early as 4000 B.C., asbestos’ like fibers were used for wicks in candles and lamps.In the 2000 and 3000’s B.C. asbestos was used to wrap the bodies of egiptian pharaohs, this protected the bodies from deterioration. In Finland, clay pots that dated back to 2500 B.C. were found to have traces of asbestos in them. It is guessed that this was because asbestos helped make the pots fire resistant and to make them stronger. Around 455 B.C. a famous greek historian named Herodotous referred to the use of asbestos. It is said that they used asbestos shrouds to wrap the dead before burning their bodies. They did this so the ashes of the body would not be mixed with the regular ashes from the fire.
As asbestos was being used in these times, some started to realize that there may be a connection between asbestos, what seemed like such a great resourceful material, and lung disease. They noted how slaves who had asbestos fibers in there clothing were getting sick. Pinly the Elder wrote that slaves sometimes used the membrane from the bladder of a goat or lamb to protect them from the asbestos as they worked.
By the middle ages so many things made had asbestos in them. It seemed to the people like a perfect thing that in so many ways was resourceful. Many tablecloths had asbestos fibers woven into them because it prevented accidental fires at the table from candles. In 1280 Marco Polo wrote about his fascination of a material that “would not burn”. He later visited an asbestos mine in China to see if the myth about asbestos being made from the hair of wooly lizard was true or not.
Slowly but surely the industry of asbestos was growing. More mines were built. There was a purse that was made from fireproof asbestos, that benjamin franklin brought to England on his first visit there in 1725. This purse is now in London’s Natural History Museum. Italy discovered that they could put asbestos in paper. By the 1800’s Italy started using this asbestos paper for bank notes because it was not flammable. In the mid 1850’s the fire department in Paris used asbestos in their helmets and jackets. All these years asbestos fibers were being used and only a few people recognised the increase of lung disease along with the growth of the industry. But it continued to be used and used, there were small asbestos mines all over the world.