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Ancient Technology for Metal Coating

2000-Year-Old Ancient Technology for Metal Coatings Superior to Today’s Standards

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Research has shown that artisans and craftsmen 2,000 years ago used a form of ancient technology for applying thin films of metal to statues and other items, which was superior to today’s standards for producing DVDs, solar cells, electronic devices and other products.

The incredible discovery, published in July, 2013 in the journal of Accounts of Chemical Research, confirmed "the high level of competence reached by the artists and craftsmen of these ancient periods who produced objects of an artistic quality that could not be bettered in ancient times and has not yet been reached in modern ones".

Fire gilding and silvering are age-old mercury-based processes used to coat the surface items such as jewels, statues and amulets with thin layers of gold or silver. While it was mostly used for decoration, it was sometimes used fraudulently to simulate the appearance of gold or silver on a less precious metal.

From a technological point of view, what the ancient gilders achieved 2000 years ago, was to make the metal coatings incredibly thin, adherent and uniform, which saved expensive metals and improved its durability, something which has never been achieved to the same standard today.

Apparently without any knowledge about the chemical–physical processes, ancient craftsmen systematically manipulated metals to create spectacular results. They developed a variety of techniques, including using mercury like a glue to apply thin films of metals, such as gold and silver, to objects.

While the scientists concluded that their results were importance because they could help preserve artistic and other treasures from the past, the findings could have an even greater significance, for they once again demonstrate that there was a far higher level of understanding and knowledge of advanced concepts and techniques in our ancient past than what they are given credit for. Other examples of ancient technology include the 2000-year old Antikythera mechanism , an ancient metallic device consisting of a complex combination of gears which is thought to have been used for calculating the positions of celestial bodies to determine solar and lunar eclipses with accurate precision, and the Baghdad Battery , a clay pot encapsulating a copper cylinder with an iron rod suspended in the centre which appears to be the earliest form of an electric battery.

The level of sophistication present 2,000 years ago and even earlier is perplexing and raises many questions about where the knowledge came from and how it originated. One thing is for sure, our history books should be rewritten to include such significant accomplishments of our ancient past and not simply cast aside in the ‘too hard to understand’ basket.

By April Holloway

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