Saturday, March 20, 2010

Looking for the blue pigment of New Kingdom pottery

Washington University in St Louis

Jennifer Smith, PhD, associate professor of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, was belly crawling her way to the end of a long, narrow tunnel. The tunnel was carved in the rock at a desert oasis by Egyptians who lived in the time of the pharaohs.

“I was crawling along when suddenly I felt stabbed in the chest,” Smith says. “I looked down and saw that I was pressing against the broken end of a long bone. That freaked me out because at first I thought I was crawling over bodies, but I looked up and saw a sheep skull not too far away, so I calmed down. At least the bones weren’t human.”

What was she doing in the tunnel?

The answer: seeking an uncontaminated sample of a mineral that might have been the key ingredient in the blue used to decorate “blue painted pottery” popular among the Egyptian elite during the New Kingdom (1550-1079 BC).

1 comment:

Mercury said...

This is a curiosity for traditionally the largest deposits of cobalt compounds reside in Zambia and Democratic Republic of the Congo. Most assuredly the cobalt salt was more of a unique chemical extraction [as mentioned] and not the result of skilled metallurgical smelting and then salt forming.