Asbestos is often thought of as a relatively modern material, especially with its boom in popularity in construction materials and insulation in the 20th century. But asbestos has been used by mankind for thousands of years, dating as far back as prehistoric times.
In several instances, archaeologists have uncovered asbestos fibres in settlement debris dating back to the Stone Age, and both Greeks and Egyptians used clothes woven with asbestos fibres in shrouds for their dead. For Egyptians, it was to stop bodies from deteriorating and in ancient Greece the historian Herodotus remarked that bodies were wrapped in the asbestos shrouds before being placed on a funeral pyre to prevent human ashes from mixing with fire ashes. In fact, many scholars think the word asbestos comes from the ancient Greek word asbestos, which means inextinguishable. Romans also exploited the use of asbestos in the use of housewares, most notably with the fibres woven into tablecloths and napkins. They cleaned them by tossing them into a blistering fire, where they came out still in one piece and whiter than before.