Microstructure and water absorption of ancient concrete from Pompeii : An integrated synchrotron microtomography and neutron radiography characterization

April 07, 2021

Ke Xu (1,2), Anton S. Tremsin (3), Jiaqi Li (1), Daniela M. Ushizima (2,4), Catherine A. Davy (5), Amine Bouterf (6), Ying Tsun Su (1), Milena Marroccoli (7), Anna Maria Mauro (8), Massimo Osanna (9), Antonio Telesca (7), Paulo J.M. Monteiro (1)

Powder Technology, 139, January 2021. DOI: 10.1016/j.cemconres.2020.106282


Roman concrete; Neutron radiography; Synchrotron microtomography; Image analysis; Machine learning; Fracture; Pore structure; Transport properties


There is renewed interest in using advanced techniques to characterize ancient Roman concrete due to its exceptional durability and low-carbon footprint. In the present work, samples were drilled from the “Hospitium” in Pompeii and were analyzed by synchrotron microtomography (μCT) and neutron radiography to study how the microstructure, including the presence of induced cracks, affects their water adsorption. The water distribution and absorptivity were quantified by neutron radiography. The 3D crack propagation, pore size distribution and orientation, tortuosity, and connectivity were analyzed from μCT results using advanced imaging methods. Porosity was also measured by mercury intrusion porosimetry (MIP) as a reference. Ductile fracture patterns were observed once cracks were introduced. Compared to Portland cement mortar/concrete, the Pompeii samples had relatively high porosity, low connectivity, and a similar coefficient of capillary penetration. In addition, permeability was predicted from models based on percolation theory and pore structure data to evaluate the fluid transport properties. Understanding the microstructure of ancient Pompeii concrete is important because it could inspire the development of modern concrete with high durability.

How Our Software Was Used

Dragonfly was used to visualize the 3D connectivity of pore networks.

Author Affiliation

(1) Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA
(2) Computational Research Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA
(3) Space Sciences Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA
(4) Berkeley Institute of Data Science, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA
(5) Univ. Lille, CNRS, Centrale Lille, ENSCL, Univ. Artois, UMR 8181 - UCCS - Unité de Catalyse et de Chimie du Solide, Lille F-59000, France
(6) Laboratoire de Mécanique et Technologie (LMT), ENS Paris-Saclay, CNRS Université Paris-Saclay, Cachan Cedex 94235, France
(7) School of Engineering, University of Basilicata, Potenza 85100, Italy
(8) Head of Research and Innovation Area of Archeological Park of Pompeii, via Plinio 4, Pompeii, NA 80045, Italy
(9) Archeological Park of Pompeii, via Plinio 4, Pompeii, NA 80045, Italy