Primping the pump

Discover the cutting edge of antique technology

Archaeological diggings: unearthing of a hydraulic pump in wood, Place Ampère (69002)
Archaeological diggings: unearthing of a hydraulic pump in wood, Place Ampère (69002) Archaeological diggings: unearthing of a hydraulic pump in wood, Place Ampère (69002) © Isabelle Chadefaux-Bagneux

What's the use of well water if you have no bucket to draw it? Lina Ritter

1975. The city of Lyon wants to modernize: the municipality launches the building of a brand-new metro. But at the time, ‘preventive archaeology’ didn't yet exist! Archaeologists intervened after work had already begun. And their "rescue excavations" were quite useful.

Among the remains discovered, a strange object in wood was stuck in the bottom of a well. It was extracted at the last moment, in just one day. A large amount of information was lost, of course, by not examining the surrounding soil, but at least the object was preserved.

It is exceedingly rare to find a wooden object that is so old. Since it is damaged by rot and insects, this material generally doesn’t last long. This item was preserved because it had been covered with water until it was discovered.

But what is it exactly? This is a "force pump". With this type of pump, the Romans were able to pull water from the well.

This model is particularly ingenious: pumped by the pressure created using two pistons inside two separate cylinders, the water rises through a tube. In the entire Roman Empire, only about twenty of these pumps have been found. We now know that the pump dates from the second century A.D.

And it's fast! It's possible to extract one liter per second, enough to fill a modern bathtub in three minutes. It's not running water, but it's about as close as you can get.

By Artips