|Importance of Beer for Civilization and thus Swords|
|Of course you (being probably male) feel strongly that swords and beer are somehow connected, you're just not quite sure about how these two essential items connect scientifically. There is no doubt, however, that after prolonged sword fight exercises the guys needed something to drink in bulk, and that couldn't possibly be water.|
|Well, there is more to swords and
beer than meets the
|Easy. Let's see if that could be true in the first part of this module. Then let's see how doing some scientific work with beer helps to understand key issues in steel engineering.|
|Can there be a halfway advanced civilization, able to smelt metals, without beer? As far as I know, if there were some, we still need to find them. But it's probably not worth the effort. The ones we found had beer or something coming close.|
|The pictures below
prove that. The first one shows a proto cuneiform clay tablet from Mesopotamia
/ Uruk. It is about 5.000 years old and thus one of the oldest artifacts with
some kind of writing on it. It predates cuneiform (that's why it's "proto"). One would tend to assume that only supremely
important stuff was recorded that way.
The tablet records the ingredients needed for making beer. If that's not important, what is?
|Some scientists today actually do
believe that hunters and gatherers only became farmers and sessile because they
needed to grow cereals for making beer. I couldn't agree more. Who needs bread
as long as you have beer and some mammoth steak for a good and prolonged
barbecue party? Here is a quote:
"It has been argued, that it was the discovery of the intoxicating effect of the alcohol contained in beer rather than the use of grain for other foodstuffs that caused the transition from hunting and gathering to living in stable settlements, domesticating animals, and cultivating the soil. This transition emerged around 7000 BC. in the border territory of the alluvial plane of Mesopotamia". It comes from the learned article of Peter Damerow, the top expert on this topic. You may want to look at his article because quoting from it gives you that intellectual air that might help to score with women (a part of humanity more given to talking than to the bulk intake of beer).
Well, here is more material for whatever it is good for:
|If you know the least little bit about cuneiform writing, you know that the tablet above must be at least from 3.200 BC because of the way "beer" is spelled out. If you don't know all that much about cuneiform or writing, here is the time line:|
earliest written documents are Sumerian wage lists and tax receipts, in which
the symbol for beer, a clay vessel with diagonal linear markings drawn inside
it, is one of the most common words, along with the symbols for grain,
textiles, and livestock. That is because writing was originally invented to
record the collection and distribution of grain, beer, bread, and other
says TOM STANDAGE in the book 'A HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN 6 GLASSES'. Walker & Company, New York, 2006, p. 14-36, in the adapted, illustrated and posted blog of Leopoldo Costa. You may want to read that article. Here is the link.
|The old Sumerians must also have had a lot of lawyers that worked hard to make simple things complicated. There is no other way to explain how an easy-to-learn script evolved into a difficult and abstract entity that only made sense to overpaid experts. Just look at the development of the symbol for a female:|
| Many tablets have been found that
deal with making and distributing beer in the mesopotamian ancient world.
Similar recordings exist from other old cultures, e.g. Egypt.
What they tell us, for example, is that some 4000 years ago in old Sumer a typical meal consisted of soup or porridge, bread, and beer. And these guys already had 9 different kinds of beer, counted it among the most basic food stables, composed hymns to the goddess Ninkasi, thanking her for teaching humans how to make it, and let the kids drink the stuff. It must have been a lot like present-day Bavaria.
Here is a picture demonstrating that:
|Those old Turks had their priorities right. You pray to your God in the correct way, and he gives you grapes for making wine and barley (in his left hand) for making beer. He doesn't have to give you women because those you get yourself; they are far easier to come by than wine and beer|
|Right now a bunch of German scientists, including archeologists, cuneiform and brewery experts, try to make beer as taught by these more than 4000 years old recipes.|
|They use the Weihenstephan research facilities
(of course in Bavaria) and already produced some beer that, according to the
description, seems to taste like American beer: thin and slightly sour, with
little alcohol and few gas (CO2, making the bubbles).
This is not acceptable in Bavaria. Some experts, however, maintain that the old ones could do better and that just more research and experiments are needed to produce decent Sumerian / Babylonian / Urukian beer.
I could not agree more. There can never be too many experiments concerning beer.
|Anyway, I now claim my first point to be proved. Beer is essential for throwing early civilizations together, and there certainly would be no metals and thus swords without that. Not to mention that forging swords is hard and hot work, pretty much impossible without beer.|
|Now let's go on to do our own experiments with beer|
|Important Experiments with Beer|
|Here is an extremely illuminating
experiment that you can do yourself with a decent kind of beer. It concerns a
very general and important concept of Materials Science that carries right over
to steel and sword-making.
The topic is the decay of excited states. There are lots of excited states out there in serious science, not to mention at parties, sports events, rock concerts, wedding nights and proto-wedding nights, and so on. However, I will only deal with the more boring excited states here.
|An excited state of some
matter is a state where the energy of the piece of matter in question is larger
than it ought to be. The excited matter will relax somehow and eventually come back to the
unexcited ground state where it has just
the right amount of energy. We scientists do call that "relaxation",
by the way, and "relaxation times" or "relaxation
approaches" are big words in serious physics.
Let's look at a few examples of boring but excited matter:
|All the examples above have two things in common:|
|The first common denominator is that you have some objects (that I will continue to call "particles") that decay into something else. A radioactive atom decays into some high-energy particle and some other atom, a "hot" atom, heavily vibrating and with some of its electrons on outer "shells", decays into a cold atom, vibrating only slightly and with all its electrons as close as possible, and a foam bubble decays into a droplet.|
|The second common denominator is that the decay is "statistical". There is no way of telling exactly when a given particle will decay, we only can state something about the probability for a decay event.|
|Knowing this, we can
now easily derive the universal law for the decay of excited states. All we
need to assume is that the (differentially) small number DN of the particles that decay in the
(differentially) small time Dt is
proportional to the number N of undecayed particles that are
In other words:
|This is a very
simple little differential equation relating the first derivative
For the boundary condition
|The proportionality constant l has the dimension [l] = 1/s. That means, of course, that 1/l is (a bit imprecisely) the half-time
constant of whatever decays. The precise half-time, where exactly half of some
stuff has decayed, would of course be:
(This is an advanced module after all).
|We derived a rather general relation, the exponential decay law, for how things develop if matter is excited. It's called the "relaxation approach" and permeates a lot of Materials Science.|
|As far as sword
making is concerned, the equation right above essentially covers the cooling
down of hot steel if it is no longer heated but put into a cooler environment.
Cooling steel (or anything else) in air for example, or in cold water when you
"quench" it, follows that equation. Just substitute the temperature
T for the particle number N. You can do that since
the temperature is just a measure for the number of "hot" particles
in there. The half-time constant l
might get a different name, too, in this case. The math, however, is exactly
Time for another beer break (get some more, you'll need it).
|This is the largest collection of (full) beer bottles in the world: 21.930 specimen! You find it in the Carlsberg brewery (museum) in Copenhagen, Denmark.|
|Having you back, I will now give you
the good news: You, personally, can investigate all of the exciting stuff about
the decay of excited states from above with a few bottles of beer. Is this
great, or what? What you do is:
|The height of your head of foam is just a measure of the number of bubbles in there. What you should get if the theory is correct and your experimental skills were up to the task, is a curve like one of these:|
|The solid lines are curves based on the equation from above. They have been calculated from the measured data in a process called "fitting".|
|There is a lot we can learn from this.|
|First, it was Arnd Leike from the physics department of of the
University of Munich in Bavaria (!) who won
the 2002 physics Ig Nobel prize for
demonstrating that beer froth obeys the mathematical law of exponential decay
and not me - even so I did this kind of experiment with my students far
earlier, around 1970.
However, I did not write a paper about it. But who wants to win the Ig Nobel prize anyway? "The Ig Nobel Prize winner has done something that first makes people LAUGH, then makes them THINK. Technically speaking, the Igs honor people whose achievements "cannot or should not be reproduced." says the Web site.
I think the Ig Nobel prize guys are crazy. You cannot reproduce an experiment like this often enough.
|Second, it is
obvious that the exponential decay law covers beer rather well - but not
perfectly. The "Augustiner", for example, does less well than the
We can only conclude, in open defiance of the Ig nobel prize guys, that far more work is necessary to really understand the nature of beer, the subtle differences between the various kinds, if the kind of beer mug you use is important, if the person of the other sex who records the data does influence the data, and so on and so forth.
So get to it! If there was a good reason to drink beer, here it is.
|Third, the experiment can be used to teach the kids about the importance of math. Here is a small excerpt from Arnd Leike's prize-winning paper, showing what it takes to work with beer in style:|
|You keep up the good work - I must stop now. The wife, ably assisting so far, has grown into an excited state and needs some help with the relaxation.|
History of Carbon
Critical Museum Guide: Museums in Istanbul, Turkey
10.2 Making Iron 10.2.1 Early Iron
10.1.1 Discovering Metals and Smelting
Old Suebian Things
Radiocarbon (C14) Dating
Early Copper Sites
Lee Sauder and Skip Williams Smelt Iron
Smelting Science - 1. Furnaces
8.2.2 It's a Long way to Nirvana
TTT Diagrams: 1. The Basic Idea
3.1.1 Breaking Things in Style
Old Sagas, Heroes and Swords
Blooms and Bloomeries
Exponentials and Logarithms
5.3.1 Grain Boundaries
Riveting, Soldering, Liquid Welding Plus Gluing and Screwing
Cast Iron; 9.5.1 General Remarks
The Dirty Mind of Materials Scientists
Odds and Ends about Researching the History of Iron Technology
Size and Density of Precipitates
8.2.2 Tempering and Ostwald Ripening
Segregation in Silicon
12.4.5 The End
Beer and Conquering The World
© H. Föll (Iron, Steel and Swords script)