The Oldest Constructed Roads

The Oldest Constructed Roads


The oldest constructed roads discovered to date are in former Mesopotamia, now known as Iraq.


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The oldest constructed roads discovered to date are in former Mesopotamia, now known as Iraq. These stone-paved streets date back to about 4000 B.C. in the Mesopotamia cities of Ur and Babylon. The location in the land of the Sumerian people offered fertile soil and, with irrigation, crops and livestock were raised successfully.

The Sumerians used meticulous brick-making skills, forming identical mud bricks for building. After drying they would take them to the site of a temple and set them in place with bitumen. Bitumen is the natural sticky black substance in asphalt. Centuries would pass before the asphalt was used in Europe and America.

Glastonbury, the ancient Isle of Avalon in Somerset, England, was the site of an interesting discovery when timber roads were discovered in a swampy area. Glastonbury, known for King Arthur's legends and believed to be the actual site of Camelot, has had a pilgrimage since ancient times as it is home to Glastonbury Abbey. Bringing much early "traffic" into the area and requiring roads for the transportation of carts and animal-drawn wagons, the timber roads served the purpose, but more advanced roadways were in the future.

Strangely, a Scottish man named John Metcalfe, born in 1717 and blinded at age six, built many miles of roads and bridges in Yorkshire, England. The roads were built in three layers: large stones, a mixture of road material, and a layer of gravel. Two other Scottish engineers, Thomas Telford and John Loudon McAdam are credited with the first modern roads. They also designed the system of raising the foundation of the road in the center for easy water drainage. Telford improved road building further by analyzing stone thickness, road traffic, road alignment, and gradient slopes. Sound familiar? This method became the norm.

Telford is well known for many engineering successes involving bridges, canals, roads, harbors, and docks. The Menai Suspension Bridge in North Wales, completed in 1826-is considered one of the greatest examples of ironworks ever built. McAdam, born in 1756, designed roads with a harder surface using broken stones placed in symmetrical, tight patterns and covered with smaller stones. His design was called "Macadam" after his name and was a huge achievement in road construction in the 1800s. This design led to the bitumen-based binding called Tarmacadam. One of the first "tar" roads was laid in Paris. The famous Champs-Elysees of the 1600s were covered with asphalt in 1824 signifying it as the first modern road in Europe. By the late 1800s, America would be paving roads. One of the first was Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C.


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