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Science Tribune - Article - October 1996


An introduction to salt

Tiiu Ojasoo

The development and prosperity of human society have depended upon and been fashioned by several key natural resources that influence trade, industrialisation, and even the structure of our society. For instance, iron was not only the matter of early tools but its transformation into steel gave rise to a very precious commodity that led to the industrial revolution of the 19th C. Without it , there would be no present-day stainless steel cutlery, medical equipment, cars, planes, etc... We only remember petrol in times of political crisis, when tax increases are announced, or when city pollution levels hit the danger mark, but it is one of our most common sources of everyday energy.

The geographical distribution of these resources - with the haves and the have-nots and the consequent fluctuations in availibility and price - have strongly marked our recent past and may still influence our future. Or, rather, they will probably be superseded by other resources, known (titanium, uranium ...) or unknown, as new applications are discovered.

However, probably one of the most spectacular examples of a natural resource that has played a leading role in our history is a substance found in every kitchen : common salt. When sprinkling a few grains of salt on our food, or even throwing shovelfulls onto our roads during the winter freeze, how often does one think that salt was once referred to as ' white gold' because of its rarity value and that its distribution was subject to heavy taxes that enriched the coffers of princes, governments and the clergy, to name but a few.

It may be pretentious to say that we can learn from history. Increasingly, we live in an accelerated present that leaves little time for reflection on the course of the past. Aesop used fables to couch his messages; Voltaire used philosophical tales; Science Tribune will use the hypertext of the Internet to relate the importance that salt has held and holds for mankind and society.

We do not wish to build a formal encyclopedia on salt but to publish information on salt in your community, region, country so that traditions, methods, industrial applications ... over the world can be confronted. What importance has salt for you ?

Science Tribune intends to tackle the topic from several angles : historical, social, technical, scientific, medical ... etc but, to start the ball rolling, we have asked several organisations involved with salt to supply articles on the specificities of salt production and use in their country over the centuries.

Here are the first articles which we hope will form a hard core for Internet readers to comment and expand upon. And, if you personally have an interesting tale to tell on the subject, please submit your piece to Science Tribune.