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Minas Tirith Forums » Library Council of Minas Tirith » What was the black rock used in building by the Men of Numenor? (Page 4)
Author Topic: What was the black rock used in building by the Men of Numenor?
Dark Lord Andúril
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So what are you saying Maerbenn? That Melkor devised or had access to the substance?

[ 04-24-2003, 01:41 PM: Message edited by: Anduril ]

From: In Imladris I dwell... | Registered: Sep 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Roll of Honor Aelish
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Well, of all the theories...glass, obsidian (type of volcanic rock), and "poured" or "burned" structure are the ones that stand out in my mind.

1. Glass-- Have you ever walked through an old church or house with stained glass windows, or even an older house (say from as recent as 1700), and looked through the window panes? Ever notice how the glass is thicker at the bottom than at the top? If Orthanc is "glass," then it would have begun to deform/lose its structural integrity long ago. That is just one observation that I haven't seen posted yet.

2. Obsidian-- After being explained by a geologist, one would think that it's easy enough to dismiss obsidian as the material. But here's another question that seems (to me) blatant...if it's obsidian, why hasn't any material like it been found in Mordor? Near Barad-dur? As well as having the properties of flint, it would also compress and begin to loose shape as the years progressed.

3. Poured-- Being poured like concrete is the most believable idea, to me. If the walls could be reinforced and girded, then the structural integrity would remain sound, and very few fissures would be "seen" (although even when you pour concrete, you must have cracks to allow for expansion and contraction).

4. Burned-- In reference to the Scottish castles, that may have been the most plausible/tangeable thing to inspire Tolkien's creation of the substance. However, I have to agree with the critics of this approach that the underlying problem is the degree of heat/intensity required to accomplish such a feat. It would also fail to explain Orthanc's durability.

I would offer up a new suggestion. One that is extremely far-fetched and finds its origins in science fiction--diamond. Nowadays, all sorts of things are coated with diamonds to increase wear-resistance and durability. Diamond is much less brittle than glass or obsidian. The idea stems from a David Bear book that I read in which synthetic diamond coatings were produced to cover all of the buildings and protect them from decay.
Although Tolkien would not have known about synthetically produced diamonds in his day, is it not conceivable that diamonds were an inspiration?

The entire structure does not need to be made of the same material, through-and-through. Indeed, it makes more structural sense if it isn't. The internal supports and structures could be carved rock, or shaped metal that supports an outer system of walls. Those outer walls (which could be dark/black cement or some other material) would then be covered with a diamond coating.

Although outlandish, I think that a combination of materials, or perhaps a homogenous colloid (yes, colloid) would be used...crushed diamond embedded cement. I do like the cement idea because of its long history (Romans inventing a cement that set up underwater) and wide cultural applicability.

But that's my own little contribution. Diamonds are a girl's best friend, why can't they be a builder's?

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GLAMDRING The Foe Hammer
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Something about this substance that bothers me is that it was only used in a couple of instances that I know of:

1. The Stone of Erech
2. The walls of Minas Anor/Tirith
3. The Tower of Orthanc

Why only those 3?

If it was something they brought with them from Numenor then why not build the walls of Osgiliath out of it instead of Minas Anor? Osgiliath was the chief city of Gondor so it would make sense to protect it better than the lesser cities.

Why not Minas Ithil? Since it guarded the pass from Mordor it would make a lot more sense to give it the strongest walls possible but it was taken more than once by the forces of Mordor (which would imply that the walls were not impregnable) while Minas Anor/Tirith was never taken by any foe.

Why were none of the towers or cities of the north kingdom built of this substance? The tower of Amon Sul (Weathertop) would have made an excellent subject for this type of material but it was obviously not since since it was destroyed down to a broken ring of stone on top of the hill.

Neither Fornost nor Annuminas were built of this substance either.

My point is this, I believe that the reason why only a few structures were ever made of this material it must have been native to that location (except for the Stone of Erech of course, which came from Numenor). Both Minas Anor/Tirith and Orthanc must have been built where they were because of the abundance of this material at that particular spot. Neither Orthanc nor Minas Anor/Tirith are located in particularly strategic spots.

An impregnable tower would have been much more valuable at the crossings of Isen rather than stashed away at the foot of the Misty Mountains. A cith with walls that could not be destroyed would have been situated at Osgiliath rather than at the foot of Mount Mindolluin.

The location of these 2 structures points to large deposits of this material at the end of the 2 mountain chains, Misty & White (sounds like a description of some new wine cooler). The locations of these 2 structures at the source of the material would also imply that it was not particularly transportable, even the short distance to Osgiliath or the fords of Isen.

I believe that this substance must have been foudn at those two locations in such mass and quantitiy that it was simpler to just work it where it lay. Now how this material was shaped or fashioned is not known but it's hardness and toughness would make it very difficult to cut into portable blocks.

Obviously it was shaped somehow though since the Stone, the tower, and the walls were not natural occurances.

Does my rambling make any sense?

Were the carvings at the Argonath made of this material or simply carved from the rock? My assumption is that they were made of rock and not of this stuff.

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ZENITH
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quote:
2. Obsidian-- After being explained by a geologist, one would think that it's easy enough to dismiss obsidian as the material. But here's another question that seems (to me) blatant...if it's obsidian, why hasn't any material like it been found in Mordor? Near Barad-dur? As well as having the properties of flint, it would also compress and begin to loose shape as the years progressed.
[] obsidian is not a rock it's a volcanic amorphous glass made up of silica and complex fe/mg minerals.

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From: The Mens Room. ENGLAND | Registered: Mar 2001  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Roll of Honor Aelish
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Zenith. I never claimed obsidian was a "rock." My comparison of its brittleness to flint was just that. Refer to the last part of the sentence that you copied. Glass is "compressed" and loses its form over time. If you read carefully, I talk about glass as being a substance that flows, moves and reshapes, no matter how slowly.

GLAMDRING, I do think that the things you've mentioned are relevant and thoughtful. Your supposition that the material could not be moved might be a bit overstated, however. I do support your analysis as to the awkwardness of its placement in the three instances that you cite, but could there have been another reason as to its use in those specific structures?

From: It's kinda like playing "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego." | Registered: Mar 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
GLAMDRING The Foe Hammer
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Aelish I agree that it doesn't make sense that the material could not be moved but I am at a loss to understand why they built the walls of Minas Anor out of it but not Osgiliath.

If it was at all portable it would make a lot more sense to fortify your most important city with walls of an impregnable substance than a fortress of lesser strategic value.

Orthanc is a mystery in itself. If this substance was so difficult to come by, as it would seem to be due to the infrequency of it's use, then why waste it on an obscure outpost of dubious strategic importance. At the time that Orthanc was built the Numenorean survivors held sway over the entire reqion between Mordor and the Ered Luin and the Dunlendings were not a major threat so what possible reason would there be for building such a powerful fortress so far within your own territory. The fact that it was abandoned for many years would also raise the same questions.

The only thing I can come up with is that somehow this substance was found only in those particular areas (end of the Misty and White mountains) and could not be easily transported. Why, I have no idea but it certainly would help explain why it was used only in those locations and in large quantities.

I am definitely open to any other ideas or info on this.

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White Gold Wielder
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I am very pleased with the direction this discussion is taking. It is very detailed and logical with efficient use of quotes and other exact sources. It is a perfect example of how Library discussion is supposed to be.

While it is true there are many things we can never know for certain about Middle Earth, it is only through deep thought and discussion that we can either see the 'reality' behind what Tolkien wrote or simply dismiss it as fantasy literary device.

Since Tolkien cared so much about the 'reailty' of his work, I think it is a worthy cause to try hard to find it in cases where he may have left too few proofs and too subtle an explanation.

I eagerly await any fresh ideas on this subject. Bravo!

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The Dúnadan
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I've heard it was made of Adamant. A friend og mine said that he had read it somewhere. i don't know what adamant exactly is, just heard him say it.
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Thingol of Doriath
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quote:
Adamant
(n.) A stone imagined by some to be of impenetrable hardness; a name given to the diamond and other substances of extreme hardness; but in modern mineralogy it has no technical signification. It is now a rhetorical or poetical name for the embodiment of impenetrable hardness.

quote:
Noun 1. adamant - very hard native crystalline carbon valued as a gem
diamond
atomic number 6, carbon, C - an abundant nonmetallic tetravalent element occurring in three allotropic forms: amorphous carbon and graphite and diamond; occurs in all organic compounds
black diamond, carbonado - an inferior dark diamond used in industry for drilling and polishing

Here are some definitions... though it seems that it is an imaginary mineral, mostly used to describe something hard and impentrable. Like a diamond.

Funny side note: when I tried to google an image of adamant, I got:

 -

Adam Ant. []

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Beorming
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I was thinking about this yesterday. I should add a jargon alert now, things could get messy! Also, geology is full of lovely generalisations, most of which have lots of exceptions. So take this with as much halite as you want. []

First of all, here's a handy quote from Gandalf at the Council of Elrond:

quote:
But Isengard is a circle of sheer rocks that enclose a valley as with a wall, and in the midst of that valley is a tower of stone called Orthanc. It was not made by Saruman, but by the Men of Númenor long ago; and it is very tall and has many secrets; yet it looks not to be a work of craft.
This sounds to me like something was already there to work on. I was very interested in the obsidian theory. Boromir's Woman and others have already pointed out that mineralogically, obsidian couldn't be the source material, but of course this is Middle Earth, and there are convenient plot-enhancing magic spells to solve tiny little problems like that. (As a quick aside, it was asserted that obsidian is not a rock. I would dispute this. Anything that solidifies out of molten bits of the Earth is a rock, however transparent or amorphous it is.)

So, most geologists asked this question would first start thinking...well how would the rock have got there in the first place? WGW suggests a link with Númenor, pointing out Númenor itself is a volcanic island. However, volcanic islands (like Hawaii and Iceland) are basaltic (= not too much silica, lots of iron) in composition. Conversely, obsidian is generally associated with continental volcanism, and the composition is most often rhyolitic (= lots of silica in it, not so much iron). This composition leads to it being highly viscous, and it often contains volatiles (gases and water and bits and bobs left over from the magma) which makes the stuff quite explosive when there are eruptions.

But you can also get obsidian surface flows, (this confuses me slightly because obsidian is formed by quenching of the lava, meaning there's no time for crystals to grow- hence the glassy structure, but super-quick cooling and slow viscous lava flows don't seem to be compatible...hmm. Guess that's why I'm not an igneous petrologist) and these can grow into fairly large thicknesses. I'm not aware of the scale these flows can reach, but if we take the theory that Orthanc was hewn (I love that word) straight from the rock, then we need a really massive flow. It was stated earlier in the thread that Orthanc was 150 metres high. I've not found anything in LotR that confirms this, but let's assume 150 metres anyway. Geologically, a 150 metre (plus?) obsidian flow I would speculate using my third-rate geological knowledge, is possible. Even if it's a near impossibility, statistically.

I'd love to know if there is any precedent for large-scale obsidian flow in real life.

An obsidian flow might be possible at the bottom end of the Misty Mountains then. However, it's certainly not possible (note disclaimer at top) on an island such as Hawaii or Númenor, so I'd be wary of connecting the Erech stone with Orthanc. Assuming my lovely theory is correct of course! []

From: halfway up Perrot's Folly | Registered: Mar 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Beorming
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Hope you'll all forgive the double post. Just wanted to add some useful quotes from the book. Not entirely related to my previous post.

Here's one from Merry, although this is before he's been to Isengard, so I'm not sure how reliable this information is- it may well be just a hobbit's guess.

quote:
Isengard is a sort of ring of rocks or hills, I think, with a flat space inside and an island or pillar of rock in the middle, called Orthanc. Saruman has a tower on it.
Sounds a bit like it's mostly rock, with a bit of a tower on top. This bit of narration is more reliable I would imagine:

quote:
It was fashioned by the builders of old, who smoothed the Ring of Isengard, and yet it seemed a thing not made by the craft of Men, but riven from the bones of the earth in the ancient torment of the hills. A peak and isle of rock it was, black and gleaming hard: four mighty piers of many-sided stone were welded into one, but near the summit they opened into gaping horns, their pinnacles sharp as the points of spears, keen-edged as knives.
Sharp edges can definitely be associated with glassy substances.
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Ulairë Gordis
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A very interesting question.

My guess would be obsidian. At least that is how I always pictured it.

But coming to thnk of it now, what was the most likely source of volcanic glass in ME? Orodruin. But when Minas Anor and Orthanc were being built, Orodruin was inaccessible - Sauron was in Mordor. Also, Minas Ithil is closer to Orodruin than its TWIN city Minas Anor. Yet, apparently, Minas Ithil outer walls were NOT built of the same material - they were white, not black. Why? Either Isildur disliked the material [] , or the source of it was too far from Minas Ithil, but close to Minas Anor and Orthanc. By the way, realistically, it makes two sources, not one. If one, it had to be closer to Orthanc, as larger quantities of the material were used there, it seems.

But I am not a geologist, so I used Google.
Here is what I found: http://mineral.galleries.com/minerals/mineralo/obsidian/obsidian.htm

quote:
Obsidian is the result of volcanic lava coming in contact with water. Often the lava pours into a lake or ocean and is cooled quickly. This process produces a glassy texture in the resulting rock. Iron and magnesium give the obsidian a dark green to black color. Obsidian has been used by ancient people as a cutting tool, for weapons, and for ceremonial purposes and is sometimes found by archaeologists in excavations.
Now, to have great amounts of obsidian, one must have a fiery mountain near a large body of water.
It doesn't apply to Mordor, but it applies to Meneltarma - at least, likely, during the rising of the island.

Was there a fiery mountain in the White Mountains near Anduin, or the coast?

Was Methedras, the last peak of the Misty Mountains, once a volcano? Angren/Isen river is there all right.

Also a disappointment : "Hardness of obsidian is 5 - 5.5 (much softer than quartz)".

So, perhaps, it was quartz, after all?


Especially if this idea is backed by a geologist:

Boromir's woman:
quote:
I know this is an old topic, but as a geologist, I wanted to add something to the discussion.
It could not be obsidian because obsidian is very easily broken. That is why it was used to fashion arrow and spear points.
If the black stone is a pure mineral, it must be one with strong internal bonds as well as high hardness - the idea of black quartz would work in this sense.



[ 04-10-2006, 05:52 PM: Message edited by: Ulairë Gordis ]

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Alatar the Wizard
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How could the walls of Minas Tirith have been made of adamant? They weren't black, were they?
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Balin Lord of Moria
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Maybe the "unbrakable" description had more to do with the workmanship rather than the material? it could have been only quartz or granite but fitted so closely and percisly with such skill there was little that could harm it. I dont see any other explination unless we drag some magic into the equation.
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Halion
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Alatar the East-helper asked:
quote:
They [the walls of Minas Tirith] weren't black, were they?
Was the main wall of Minas Tirith black?
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Alatar the Wizard
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That topic just left me more confused than before. lol

But it seems that the "outer walls", at least, were made of adamant.

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The Witch-King of Angmar
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Nope-- it was marble, at least in the case of Minas Ithil:

quote:
A long-tilted valley, a deep gulf of shadow, ran back far into the mountains. Upon the further side, some way within the valley's arms high on a rocky seat upon the black knees of the Ephel Dúath, stood the walls and tower of Minas Morgul. All was dark about it, earth and sky, but it was lit with light. Not the imprisoned moonlight welling through the marble walls of Minas Ithil long ago
Adamant is a very hard type of ordinary (non-magical) stone, while the walls of Minas Tirith and Orthanc had some "devilry" in them which made them unbreakable.

Meanwhile adamant was specified directly where it existed.

As for Minas Tirith:

quote:
For the main wall of the City was of great height and marvellous thickness, built ere the power and craft of Númenor waned in exile; and its outward face was like to the Tower of Orthanc, hard and dark and smooth, unconquerable by steel or fire, unbreakable except by some convulsion that would rend the very earth on which it stood.
‘Nay,’ they said, ‘not if the Nameless One himself should come, not even he could enter here while we yet live.’

From the Silmarillion:

quote:
Isildur and Anárion ...built also upon either hand: Minas Ithil, the Tower of the Rising Moon, eastward upon a shoulder of the Mountains of Shadow as a threat to Mordor; and to the westward Minas Anor, the Tower of the Setting Sun, at the feet of Mount Mindolluin, as a shield against the wild men of the dales. In Minas Ithil was the house of Isildur, and in Minas Anor the house of Anárion, but they shared the realm between them and their thrones were set side by side in the Great Hall of Osgiliath. These were the chief dwellings of the Númenóreans in Gondor, but other works marvellous and strong they built in the land in the days of their power, at the Argonath, and at Aglarond, and at Erech; and in the circle of Angrenost, which Men called Isengard, they made the Pinnacle of Orthanc of unbreakable stone.
As Merry and Pippin recalled about Orthanc, there was "some devilry in it" which even the Ents couldn't harm despite their best efforts, despite being made of "the bones of the earth" and seemingly being able to destroy any natural substance with ease.
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Snöwdog
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The stone was quite hard and the craft of Numenor made Orthanc so polished and smooth that the ents could not get a 'roothold' on it to break it.
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The Flammifer
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Say, anyone ever wonder why Isildur brought the Stone of Erech to Middle-earth? []

According to the description it had to weigh in at about 25 tons!

I don’t think Isildur knew anything about any Dead Men or Oaths or such.

What did Isildur find so dang important about this Stone? And how big a ship would it take to haul it from Numenor?

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Snöwdog
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.... and how did they get it to where it was placed?
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The Flammifer
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quote:
.... and how did they get it to where it was placed?
Well, it was described as perfectly round so . . . Roll, roll, roll . . . Maybe they didn’t want it to “gather any moss”? []
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Snöwdog
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So what are theories on how Isildur got a 12+ foot diameter spherical black rock off a ship and up on the Hill of Erech and then buried half way? Additionally, how did he get it onboard in Numenor?
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Aiwrendel
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They recruited ancient Egyptians. []

The largest stones on the great pyramid of Giza weighed 80 metric tonnes (90 tons) and were transported by boat up the Nile by humans with no special Numenorean powers. They were also lifted to great heights and precisely carved and fitted so well one can't slide a sheet of paper between them.

If they could do that it should have been no problem for the Numenoreans.

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Snöwdog
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That is the best theory you have? Ok. So Gondor was not above using captured and/or indigenous slaves to set up their great works (like the Egyptians)?
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Aiwrendel
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Oh, you’re such a funny man, Snow Pup. Twisting my meaning by substituting "captured and forced into servitude" for "recruited" and ignoring the winky emoticon. []

I, of course, meant the Numenorians might have used similar building methods as the ancient Egyptians. []

But there are only theories of how the Egyptians built the pyramids. No one really knows how they managed it but some of the theories might apply to the Numenorians. They could have used rollers (trees) or sleds to move them and sand ramps to elevate them. Shaping them would be a challenge as they would need tools that could chip away pieces of the stones. Those tools might be as hard or harder as the stones themselves but not necessarily if they hardened the stones after they were in place (as a few ideas in this thread have suggested.)

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