Goblet - Romans Used Nanotechnology

1,600-Year-Old Goblet Shows that the Romans Used Nanotechnology


The Lycurgus Cup, as it is known due to its depiction of a scene involving King Lycurgus of Thrace, is a 1,600-year-old jade green Roman chalice that changes colour depending on the direction of the light upon it. It baffled scientists ever since the glass chalice was acquired by the British Museum in the 1950s. They could not work out why the cup appeared jade green when lit from the front but blood red when lit from behind.

The mystery was solved in 1990, when researchers in England scrutinized broken fragments under a microscope and discovered that the Roman artisans were nanotechnology pioneers: They had impregnated the glass with particles of silver and gold, ground down until they were as small as 50 nanometres in diameter, less than one-thousandth the size of a grain of table salt.

The work was so precise that there is no way that the resulting effect was an accident. In fact, the exact mixture of the previous metals suggests that the Romans had perfected the use of nanoparticles – “an amazing feat,” according to archaeologist Ian Freestone of University College London. When hit with light, electrons belonging to the metal flecks vibrate in ways that alter the colour depending on the observer’s position.

Now it seems that this technology, once used by the Romans to produce beautiful art, may have many more applications - the super-sensitive technology used by the Romans might help diagnose human disease or pinpoint biohazards at security checkpoints. Gang Logan Liu, an engineer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who has long focused on using nanotechnology to diagnose disease, and his colleagues, realized that this effect offered untapped potential. 

They conducted a study last year in which they created a plastic plate filled with gold or silver nanoparticles, essentially creating an array that was equivalent to the Lycurgus Cup. When they applied different solutions to the plate, such as water, oil, sugar and salt, the colours changed. The proto­type was 100 times more sensitive to altered levels of salt in solution than current commercial sensors using similar techniques. It may one day make its way into handheld devices for detecting pathogens in samples of saliva or urine, or for thwarting terrorists trying to carry dangerous liquids onto airplanes.

This is not the first time that Roman technology has exceeded that of our modern day.  Scientists studying the composition of Roman concrete , submerged under the Mediterranean Sea for the last 2,000 years, discovered that it was superior to modern-day concrete in terms of durability and being less environmentally damaging. The knowledge gained is now being used to improve the concrete we use today. Isn’t it ironic that scientists now turn to the works of our so-called ‘primitive’ ancestors for help in developing new technologies?

By April Holloway


So you want to put the claim that an advanced society would be able to keep infant mortality low into question?

Let me argue it thus then. If we suddenly lost that ability, we would immediately move huge resources to resolving that problem, sacrificing modern amenities if need be. What mother would fail to give up TV, or air conditioning, if it meant saving their child's life (obviously there would be examples, but we're talking about the society overall)? Therefore, among the first uses any new technology will be put to then, if possible, is to reducing infant mortality rates (and mortality in general). An advanced society, given the same resources as an unadanced one, will always have a lower mortality rate.

Almost without variation, ancient civilizations had a greater access to resources than we do today (by virtue of non-renewables having been less spent - exceptions come from ancient societies which experienced ecological catastrophe), yet they had higher infant mortality rates, therefore they were less advanced.

i'm not saying it's nanotech i'm responding to your comment. the article is click baiting for sure in calling it nanotech but the comment you posted "The ancients were not advanced; their young died en masse" is absurdly oversimplified.
also germ theory did exist at the time of aristotle who unlike others such as heron of alexandria who believed that they existed aristotle was a realist and his sentiment although wrong was we shouldn't point to invisible things that we can't prove as real as causing things like disease.

Gold dust != nano technology.

Indoor plumbing has been around for thousands of years. It's more like saying "If I can develop carbon nano tubes, then the society which I live in must also be able to create artificial diamonds." The fields are related.

You expect me to believe that a society which lacked a base-n number system, which lacked germ theory, which lacked any semblance of a periodic table of elements, which hadn't yet developed algebra (let alone calculus), and whose "chemistry" consisted of guess work developed nano technology? Utter nonsense. In order to develop nano technology, you need an advanced knowledge of chemistry (including a periodic table, and modern atomic theory) and calculus.

curious how you arrived at that conclusion for a reason to be ruling out advanced knowledge of technology that in no way relates to the subject of child mortality rates? seems like you may be grasping at straws it's like an advanced artistic technique and medical sciences correlate to the same thing. kind of like saying, if i can work indoor plumbing i should be able to manufacture antibiotics right?

That's irrelevant. The ancients were not advanced; their young died en masse.


Next article