Talc, the Wonder Mineral
Througout the history of man, we have used talc for many purposes. Used most widely today as a packing material, talc's history places it in many occupations. In recent history alone, talc has been an insulator for both homes and circuit boards, an abraisive, and an important ingredient in many household cleaners. But before the modern world discovered the myriad uses of talc, the midieval and classic worlds experimented with it for centuries. Join me as we begin our journey through talc's past.
At the beginning of the age of Greece, talc was being used as a building block for dwellings. Early Grecians would grind the stone to a fine powder using iron tools and combine it with sand and mud to make crude bricks. This created a marbled look in their structures, a love of which carried over into later architecture. The talc brickwork was sturdy enough for homes, but a poor substitute for concrete, which was later developed by the Romans. Because of this, Greece has very few remaining talc brick buildings today.
Building from the successes and failures of talc in Greece, the Romans used talc to help clean up blood and entrails left by gladiatorial games. The rock's powder was once again used, this time sprinkled over the areas of bloodshed and then let to dry. The resulting mixture was then scraped from the stone floors by custodial slave workers. Later on, talc was also used as a decorative stone for the interiors of upper class homes. The stone would be shaped into smooth eggs or spheres and set above doorways and windows. Historians currently believe that talc was involved in the worship of Venus, which would explain it's revered yet sporadic appearance in remaining structures.
Roman Catholic Priests often used talc in their baths as an exfoliant. The modern world has found many more effective minerals for these purposes, but the priests prided themselves on their appearances and soft skin, which they attributed to weekly talc baths. King Charlemagne is said to have combined talc with egg whites for his hair to keep it stiff and glistening on the battlefield. As time went on, the personal hygeine uses of talc spread from the rich to the Bourgeoisie. Many women used talc to smooth and whiten their faces for centuries. Of course, they were likely not aware that morticians were using the amazing stone for the same purpose.
Talc's popularity began to decline eventually, until it was mostly being used only in soaps or as minor decoration. In the 16th century, a French doctor named Guy Antoine Francoise took an interest in talc as an internal medicine. He began researching it as an expectorant in his medical tonics but soon found it had powerful applications as a laxative. His research went unpublished for almost a century, however, after he died from mercury poisoning resulting from his other experiments.
When Francoise's research was again rediscovered, further scientific advances allowed the geological community to learn a great deal about talc as a mineral instead of talc as a product or precious stone. Researchers eventually discovered the molecular makeup of the mineral, which is shown below:
Talc became more of a background player, as it started to be used as a base for many consumer products at the beginning of the 20th century. While present in many of the things people buy, few realize it's importance in those purchases. Styrofoam packing materials currently make up the majority of talc usage, though it is prevalent in thousands of other materials. Talc has proven to be a resilient draw of human attention throughout our history as it progressed from building material, to precious stone, to hygenic supply to medicine, to industrial material, and beyond.
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