Sophisticated Technologies Mastered By Ancients

29 July, 2013

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Follow us: - Ancients were in possession of very sophisticated knowledge.

They mastered technologies comparable to our own in the twentieth century.

Over the centuries, smiths have used a range of techniques to process metal. More than two millennia ago skilled craftsmen and artists developed thin-film coating technology unrivaled even by today’s standards for producing DVDs, solar cells, electronic devices and other products.

How artisans centuries ago achieved sophisticated gilding, such as on the St. Ambrogio golden altar from 825 AD, is now coming to light. Credit: American Chemical Society

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 thin films 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.

Fire gilding and silvering are age-old mercury-based processes used to coat the surface of less precious substrates with thin layers of gold or silver.

In ancient times, these methods were used to produce and decorate different types of artefacts, such as jewels, statues, amulets, and commonly-used objects. Gilders performed these processes not only to decorate objects but also to simulate the appearance of gold or silver, sometimes fraudulently.

From a technological point of view, the aim of these workmen over 2000 years ago was to make the precious metal coatings as thin and adherent as possible. This was in order to save expensive metals and to improve the resistance to the wear caused by continued use and circulation.

Recent 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.”


See also:

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