Ancient technology for metal coatings 2,000 years ago can't be matched even today

July 24, 2013

Artists and craftsmen more than 2,000 years ago developed thin-film coating technology unrivaled even by today's standards for producing DVDs, solar cells, electronic devices and other products. Understanding these sophisticated metal-plating techniques from ancient times, described in the ACS journal Accounts of Chemical Research, could help preserve priceless artistic and other treasures from the past.

Gabriel Maria Ingo and colleagues point out that scientists have made good progress in understanding the chemistry of many ancient artistic and other artifacts—crucial to preserve them for future generations. Big gaps in knowledge remained, however, about how gilders in the Dark Ages and other periods applied such lustrous, impressively uniform films of gold or silver to intricate objects. Ingo's team set out to apply the newest analytical techniques to uncover the ancients' artistic secrets.

They discovered that gold- and silversmiths 2,000 years ago developed a variety of techniques, including using mercury like a glue to apply of metals to statues and other objects. Sometimes, the technology was used to apply real gold and silver. It also was used fraudulently, to make cheap metal statues that look like solid gold or silver. The scientists say that their findings confirm "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."

Explore further: Re-creating the original colors of treasured ivory carvings from the ancient past

More information: Acc. Chem. Res., Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/ar300232e

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5 / 5 (6) Jul 24, 2013
This isn't really news--the technique and its application has been known for a long time.

An amalgam of gold or silver was applied to a base metal, such as copper (remember the old chemistry demonstration of coating a penny with mercury?) and the mercury boiled off, leaving the gold or silver behind. The technique also accounted for quite a number of shortened lifetimes of the workers doing the boiling from mercury poisoning.
2.7 / 5 (9) Jul 24, 2013
Similar the the technique in the old days for hat making in 'merrie olde englund'....and d'at is why we got the phrase 'mad as a hatter!'
1.1 / 5 (8) Jul 25, 2013
Yes - the magical mystical theatrics and secrets of the ancients adds much cred to the science of back alley renovation, just like Jedi Bob and his tube of tooth paste polishing up motor bike parts.
1 / 5 (7) Jul 25, 2013
Yes, already known like the Roman 'concrete' which used pre cooked cement.
2.5 / 5 (8) Jul 27, 2013
But headlines!
And fashionable disdain for the modern world and technological advancement!


Yes, we also no longer have gooseberry pies nearly as green as when they were colored with copper sulfates.
1.7 / 5 (6) Jul 27, 2013
This doesn't surprise me, as they were very advanced for their time. Also, many of the ancient structures are some of the most structurally impressive in the world (i.e. the great pyramids, stonehenge, baalbek, chichen itza).
1 / 5 (2) Jul 30, 2013
This doesn't surprise me, as they were very advanced for their time. Also, many of the ancient structures are some of the most structurally impressive in the world (i.e. the great pyramids, stonehenge, baalbek, chichen itza).

I'll bite.

In this case it seems that this was already no mystery, but it doesn't surprise me that ancient civilizations could have achieved feats that even we cannot perform, even with their meager means. People seem to forget that 10s of generations of pyramid builders, all operating within the same basic means, lead up to the great pyramids and all of the others. People seem to forget that the humans that lived at that time weren't any less intelligent than us, they just had different means. Modern humans live in a world where the means themselves are completely dynamic. The concept of having a static means for 10+ generations and the things that we would learn to do within those means is completely foreign to us today.
1 / 5 (2) Jul 30, 2013

And it's not surprising that this knowledge was lost to time, as this was the type of knowledge that made a man a god(at least in the case of most of the monolithic structures). It was analogous to nuclear technology today. The most effective state-sponsored symbol of power available. "Top Secret", if you will.

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