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Please assume the following:

There is a item on the ground and I want nothing but bare earth touching it.

  • I cannot move the item myself.
  • The item is impervious to fire.
  • I cannot afford to guard the place 24/7.
  • But I can come back from time to time (maybe even daily) to check.
  • EDIT: Dimensions: The item is a pole about 1.5m high and roughly 20 cm radius (at the base), standing upright.

How can I, with common (or not so common) items from the Roman age deter any and all creatures from touching the item?

My few ideas:

  • Burn all grass / scrubs in a certain radius around the location.
  • Salt the ground around the item to prevent rodents, insects, snails and so forth from traveling into the area.

Do you have better ideas or maybe additions, to this procedure?

Problems:

  • Is there any way to deal with birds? (Scarecrows don't work all the time right?)
  • The ground directly under the item is sealed. but what about rodents/insect burrowing their way into the area from the bottom?

I am ready for some handwaving, but I like to keep it to a minimum with the help of this great community!

EDIT: While I can use supplies from the surrounding region and I have the support of the populace, they are not in my workforce. So everything I build would have to be a 1-2 person job.

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    $\begingroup$ "Any and all creatures" includes humans and their dogs. Salting the Earth does not do anything against humans or dogs. (It actually does not do much against insects either. You know, most insects can fly, and all insects can walk on pure salt without any disconfort.) As far as I know, there is nothing you can do except enclose the item in a suitable enclosure, made of wood, of brick or of metal. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 14 at 19:03
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    $\begingroup$ Edits should not invalidate existing answers. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Apr 14 at 19:37
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, don't get it. Ok, the concrete walls/roof would protect the object from all creatures, except humans - if it's so interesting/valuable - what would stop a bloke with a clodhammer from bashing in the wall and stealing it? Not sure what you're asking here. If you're asking about Roman taboos, then just say, but otherwise, what's going on? $\endgroup$ – 011358 smell Apr 14 at 20:21
  • $\begingroup$ Well humans are a concern that is handled in my story. Just a misunderstanding there. $\endgroup$ – openend Apr 14 at 21:32
  • $\begingroup$ Most animals are covered by making an enclosure of concrete or metal (some insects are hard but others are fairly easy). The one category of animal you can't keep out are burrowing animals. Gophers, for example. Unless you can tunnel under the item to put in metal mesh say a foot below it (which doesn't sound possible given your constraints). And that won't stop burrowing insects and other tiny animals like earthworms, beetles, ants, & soil microbes. How exact is "all creatures"? Even daily poisoning of the area won't stop everything. And if the poison isn't allowed to touch the item? $\endgroup$ – Cyn Apr 14 at 22:14
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You don't mention whether or not your character needs near-term access to the item, I therefore give you...

Roman Concrete

The formula for which we still haven't discovered and don't fully understand — especially since modern concrete doesn't last anywhere near as long as Roman concrete has.

Build a form, pour the concrete over the item, fill it up like you're trying to hide Jimmy Hoffa. Nobody gets in or out. Not a bird in the sky, not a rat on the ground, nary a worm or a fly or even bacteria not previously present on the item.

If you don't want the concrete touching it, pour it like a dome over the top.

Boom.

Oh, rats. I just noticed you want this to be a minimal-person job. My answer requires a small team of people. Sorry.

Edit: After the addition of the item size in the question, the problem is now one that a single individual could solve in a half day or so, so long as the technical expertise and raw materials were both available to the individual.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yeah totally my bad, somehow only answers can make me aware of all implications :) $\endgroup$ – openend Apr 14 at 19:24
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    $\begingroup$ Roman concrete isnt a mystical substance - we know how it was made and what it was made of, and we can easily exceed its performance. Modern cement has a far higher compressive strength, so why sacrifice that for greater longevity when the bridge/building is going to be demolished within a few decades anyway? Since we also tend to build with pre-stressed steel rebar anyway (we like to add a little tensile strength), the longevity of the rusting steel is the greater limiting factor. That is why we don't generally use Roman formulations - not because it is some lost secret of the ancients. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Apr 15 at 18:10
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    $\begingroup$ Just because someone writing for PopularMechanics (hardly the most rigorous publication) repeated the myth does not make it true. There are even primary sources explaining where they were sourcing their materials and exactly why. Vitruvius even explains in details down to how the best sand for certain applications should feel when rubbed in your hands. Primary source. In detail. Nothing mystical. (and of course little escapes the electron microscope - this is pretty basic materials science). $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Apr 15 at 19:31
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    $\begingroup$ @pluckedkiwi, just because you say it's a myth doesn't make it so. I'm willing to change my opinion (and have done so before) but you need to either state your credentials to exceed those I've already provided or point to a more credible source. You challenged my opinion... time to pony up. $\endgroup$ – JBH Apr 15 at 20:51
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    $\begingroup$ @ben, that was a fun read, but regrettably, it's an opinion piece. It does point out (and correctly, too) that better studies need to be done. However, when it comes to the "lost technology mystery," please remember, the OP asked what Roman-era technology could be used to solve the problem. I don't mean to be persnickety, but the technology wasn't lost to the Romans. The conversation about the "lost tech" is a bit of a tangent that doesn't actually affect the OP at all. $\endgroup$ – JBH Apr 16 at 0:17
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Stump.

burned stump

  1. Find dead tree stump of appropriate size. 2.5 m would work. A burned stump is ideal; if not, burn the outside.

  2. Cut it off at the ground or pull it up by the roots if you can.

  3. Hollow it out.

  4. Lower hollow stump over pole.

  5. Pile dirt up against base of stump / roots. Move vines there. Fertilize new vines with whatever you might have handy.

Now your untouchable pole has a sheath. It will last as long as a burned stump lasts. Charred exterior will dissuade insects which might burrow in and eventually traverse the stump to the hollow interior where your pole is.

The benefit to this method: the pole is also camouflaged as a worthless and unremarkable item. It will attract no attention. If I were traipsing thru the woods and I found a bronze box that @Kilisi built, standing in the middle of nowhere, I would think "Treasure!" and return with my buddies and their hacksaws. Or just take a nice metal box to keep my stuff in. Not so the rotten and burned stump - not even good for firewood.

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    $\begingroup$ Yeah a bronze box does have drawbacks... but still... shame on you and your hacksaw wielding mates $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Apr 15 at 12:18
  • $\begingroup$ I love the ingenuity :) $\endgroup$ – openend Apr 15 at 17:08
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Romans were already able to build walls and roofs. Those will cover the sides and the upper part of the thing. No need for windows, of course.

For the ground, spread generous dosages of natron, already available to Egyptians.

Historical natron was harvested directly as a salt mixture from dry lake beds in ancient Egypt, and has been used for thousands of years as a cleaning product for both the home and body. Blended with oil, it was an early form of soap. It softens water while removing oil and grease. Undiluted, natron was a cleanser for the teeth and an early mouthwash. The mineral was mixed into early antiseptics for wounds and minor cuts. Natron can be used to dry and preserve fish and meat. It was also an ancient household insecticide, and was used for making leather as well as a bleach for clothing.

The mineral was used during mummification ceremonies in ancient Egypt because it absorbs water and behaves as a drying agent. Moreover, when exposed to moisture, the carbonate in natron increases pH (raises alkalinity), which creates a hostile environment for bacteria.

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  • $\begingroup$ You yourself accept that natron was extracted and used, which means that some creatures, such as natron workers, were not deterred by it. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 14 at 19:04
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP how do you know they weren't deterred by it? They just had a bigger javelin pointed at them from the other side... $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Apr 14 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer, I forgot to mention the available workforce (1/2 people), Im really sorry. $\endgroup$ – openend Apr 14 at 19:21
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The item is impervious to fire

Well there's your answer. Build a fire pit around/on your item, lined with the same materials you'd use for a forge. Light a fire, and then every 8 hours or so, return and top off the fire with thick pieces of hard-wood in a compact load to keep the fire going.

It'll be expensive to maintain a permanent fire, but I guarantee that nothing will want to touch an item in the center of a fire.

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First Line of Defense: Chemical Warfare

Chemical animal repellents are effective over very large distances, deterring animals before they can even see the item. Your strategy should start there.

And ancient romans had tons of options. Most were derived from plants and animals, and most are still effectively used to this day. They usually work either by overwhelming the senses or activating a danger instinct. I imagine your ancient roman concocting an absolutely putrid, foul brew and just dumping that eye-watering mess all over the place. Here are a few possible ingredients:

  • Peppermint and garlic were cheap and commonplace spices back then, but are unbearably strong for many pests.
  • Some other common pungent repellents included castor oil, vinegar, and rotten eggs.
  • Tropical products like pepper and cinnamon would've been more expensive imports.
  • Predator urine instinctively stops many animals in their tracks. Depending on the province in the empire, you could probably purchase some excellent bear or lion urine near the local amphitheatre.
  • But some human urine would do nicely, and was cheaper and easier to get. You might buy that at the laundromat, but it would be fresher to just to scoop some out of the collection vats down the street!

But if your character is industrious and obsessive enough...

Why not do all the things?!

If critters somehow got past that awfulness, then they'd face the good stuff the others mentioned:

  • Dead zone! Sure, can't hurt to scorch the area and salt the earth.
  • Ring of fire! But with a change -- a trough or small moat of burning oil, with a nearby vat to provide a steady supply, would be far more reliable than a wood fire. Like a big circular oil lamp!
  • Surround it with intimidating scarecrows. Animals are kinda dumb. Psychological warfare!
  • Put bird control spikes everywhere a bird could land.
  • Seal it up! Paint the thing itself with a nice thick coat of tar or wax. That by itself should be enough to stop small animals such as insects and worms. (Warning: keep tar/wax away from ring of fire!)
  • Finally, lower a concrete and/or metal enclosure over it. That easily solves a lot of problems, including your insidious gopher threat. As a side note, a Roman metal box like this would probably have been made of lead.
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You could dig down a foot or two in an area and pour concrete in that space to make a concrete floor. and maybe put a sheet of metal down below or on top of the concrete. Then put soil on top of the concrete and then rest your pole on top of the ground you have put on top of the concrete.

Then you will have prevented creatures from coming upwards from the ground below the concrete.

All you will have to worry about is critters coming along the ground from the sides or flying through the air.

you could use poles to erect netting or a fabric tent around and above the object, so flying and walking critters couldn't get through the net or tent to reach the object, unless they were strong enough to break through or tiny enough to slip through tiny gaps in the netting or cloth weave.

But you, a human, could always untie the tent flap to get in or look through the netting to see that the object is alright.

To keep big critters away you can make a rock garden around the concrete area, selecting hard and shape edged rocks, with the sharp edges pointing up and the spaces between too small for a wolf's or wild cat's paw, and the width of the rock garden too wide for a lion to leap over.

Most of the local humans will go barefoot and would cut their feet on the sharp rocks. But you can put on sandals with thick wooden soles when you want to get to the object, or use stilts whose bottoms are thin enough to fit between the sharp rocks.

And you can use foul smelling chemicals to keep lifeforms away as others have suggested.

Or maybe surround the area with a ditch you keep full of fire as others have suggested.

And you may want to have duplicate poles inside your protection area, or maybe duplicate protection areas with duplicate poles.

Something is bound to happen sooner or later to destroy your defenses. A forest fire, earthquake, storm, etc., may destroy the tent or netting, or maybe a raiding party of pillaging barbarians will see your spot and figure out how to get in and get what is guarded.

So the shorter you have to keep the pole guarded, the more likely you are to guard it successfully.

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Nothing would deter all animals from entering an area. Your only option is to have an area that can't be entered. Metal boxes are well within Roman tech.

Safes have been used for a long time to stop anything from touching valuables, we still use them today.

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