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Bitumen is loder than the civilizaion of man kind. Although now associated with roads and produced in large, complex, modern refineries , natural bitumen was found long before this, among the desert dunes of Arabia.
The Romans called it gwitu-men (pertaining to pitch) or pixtu-men (bubbling pitch), converted, after the barbarian invasions to bitumen. The word passed into French, and then, after the Norman conquest of England in 1066, into English, where it was used interchangeably with tar for over a thousand years (though tar derives from coal, and bitumen from petroleum).
The earliest recorded use of something like bitumen was by the Sumerians, on the Euphrates river (near present-day Kuwait). followed by Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar used it for waterproofing and even as grouting for stone roads.
The use of bitumen spread further West, and the Bible records a bituminous substance (tar, asphalt or bitumen, depending on the translation) was used in building the Tower of Babel.
In 1595 Sir Walter Raleigh discovered a thick viscous lake in the jungles of Trinidad. This was to be the largest natural deposit of bitumen ever found and was used extensively until the mid 1970s.
In the late nineteenth century, however, bitumen began to be used for the major industrial uses common today, and with those began synthetic production. Shell began major bitumen production in the UK in 1920, after opening the Shell Haven refinery.
Natural bitumen (often called tar sands or oil sands) and heavy oil differ from light oils by their high viscosity (resistance to flow) at reservoir temperatures, high density (low API gravity), and significant contents of nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur compounds and heavy-metal contaminants. They resemble the residuum from the refining of light oil. Most heavy oil is found at the margins of geologic basins and is thought to be the residue of formerly light oil that has lost its light-molecular-weight components through degradation by bacteria, water-washing, and evaporation.