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Still Waters

The Science Behind Historic Uses of Urine

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For modern scientists, the golden liquid can be, well, liquid gold. But a quick look back in history shows that urine has always been important to scientific and industrial advancement, so much so that the ancient Romans not only sold pee collected from public urinals, but those who traded in urine had to pay a tax. So what about pee did preindustrial humans find so valuable? Here are a few examples:

http://blogs.smithso...^editors_choice

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I got a new job!

Doing what?

Taking the pi**.

You taking the pi**?

Yep. Full-time... plus pension.

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The look on my face as I read this article (especially about the tooth-brushing) must have been priceless.

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Very interesting report on the use of urine through the ages.

The use of urine to create potassium nitrate is as old as gunpowder itself.

In Jack Kelly's book, "Gunpowder: Alchemy, Bombards and Pyrotechnics -- The History of the Explosive That Changed The World," he writes that the urine of heavy drinkers was particularly prized for making potassium nitrate. The microbes that created potassium nitrate as a waste product loved the urine of drunkards.

I've tried to find specifics in his book, but am unable. Isn't that just the way!

Kelly's book is fascinating and very well written. He deals almost exclusively with what today we call "black powder." Smokeless powder is not heavily discussed.

Creating potassium nitrate was a horrendous process that involved rotting organic substances. The bodies of dogs, horses and other stinky-stuff were "stewed" for months in pits, until a white crust began to appear: potassium nitrate.

Potassium nitrate is oxygen-rich. It's why, even in a vacuum, gunpowder still ignites and burns. In space, firearms would work just fine.

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