(Joe Schwarcz): In 218 BC, the Carthaginian general Hannibal crossed the Alps with his elephants to settle a score with Rome. The perilous journey almost came to an end at what looked like an impenetrable rockfall. But Hannibal, an ingenious leader, had a trick up his sleeve. Or at least some vinegar in his pot. As the Roman historian Livy recounts, Hannibal had his men heat up the vinegar and pour it over the rocks, causing them to crumble. And here the story crumbles. Scale deposits in a kettle can certainly be made to crumble with vinegar, but that is a long way from breaking down a wall of rock - even if it is limestone, which, like kettle scale, is made of calcium carbonate. Livy's story has to be swallowed with a very large grain of sodium chloride, especially given that his account was written about 200 years after the supposed event.
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