Friday, May 31, 2013

Sometimes It Pays to Look Back

My featured story this week on my “World’s Oldest Stuff” blog is about an ancient artificial pigment called Egyptian Blue. This pigment has a unique property which is now being investigated for use in modern applications as varied as specialized inks and medical imaging.

Egyptian Blue is an artificial pigment which most experts believe was first created in Egypt more than 4,500 years ago. At some point in time, researchers discovered that when a red light is applied to the pigment, it reflects infrared light. Museum conservators and archaeologists have taken advantage of this unique property to spot fake artifacts and to verify others for more than ten years. Now other researchers have made new discoveries about this ancient coloring agent.

A team of chemists at the University of Georgia studying Egyptian Blue’s primary molecule, calcium copper tetrasilicate, have discovered the pigment can reflect infrared radiation even when reduced to the thickness of a single layer a thousand times thinner than a human hair. Now they’re busy dreaming up uses for this discovery.

Tina Salguero, a member of the University of Georgia team, believes the calcium copper tetrasilicate could be used in medical imaging applications since infrared radiation can easily pass through human tissue. Other possible applications might include new types of security inks used to prevent the forgery official documents and paper currencies. Other potential applications for the molecule involve possible uses in LED and optical fiber technologies.

Both LEDs and optical fibers transmit signals using infrared light. Since calcium copper tetrasilicate works so well in extremely tiny quantities, it might be possible to further miniaturize electronic components, for example.

Did the ancient Egyptians know about the unique reflecting properties of Egyptian Blue? Unless they had some way of producing red light, the answer is that they probably did not. But we keep finding out that the ancient ones knew things we are only now discovering. Personally, I wouldn’t put anything past them.

Archaeology’s website is at

If you’d like to read my article about the "World’s Oldest Pigment," go here

Friday, May 17, 2013

Real Life Hobbit Houses

I accidentally stumbled across this site while I was looking for other things. The website’s creator has assembled a colorful collection of Tolkien-inspired homes around the world. They’re not weird or strange (okay, maybe a little), but they are intriguing, and many are downright appealing. Go pay this site a visit. I think you’ll be glad you did.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

A New Mystery at Teotihuacan

I’ve written several stories about Teotihuacan, and now I’m writing another one. Researchers studying a tunnel beneath the pyramid known as the “Temple of the Feathered Serpent” discovered hundreds of metallic spheres. The significance of these balls, carved from pyrite, is unknown, but the tunnel was believed to have been used by priests and/or rulers for secret rituals.

Archaeologists initially used robots equipped with laser scanners and infrared cameras to explore parts of the tunnel that had not been previously excavated. Now they plan to excavate the remainder of the tunnel and adjoining chambers. They believe important artifacts are awaiting discovery along with the gold-colored spheres. The tunnel has lain undisturbed for about nearly 2,000 years.

The city of Teotihuacan was already abandoned when it was first discovered by the Aztec, who called it the City of the Gods. It has been slow to give up its secrets, partly because no writing system has been discovered there, which is odd considering the high level of organization required to construct and govern it. No one knows who built thecity, which is believed to have been a major cultural and trading center.

If you would like to read more about Teotihuacan, start here

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Jamestown Colonists Survived by Eating Their Own

The winter of 1609-10 was exceptionally brutal and the colonists of Jamestown were not equipped to survive. They had alienated their Native American neighbors early on by raiding villages for food and supplies and violently taking over land the natives considered their own. So when the settlers began to run out of food, their neighbors would not only not help them, but laid siege to James Fort to prevent supplies from reaching the colony. That winter became known as “the starving time.” As many as 200 of the original 300 settlers died and others were left severely weakened by hunger, disease and cold.

Now, it seems that some of the settlers found a way to survive. They resorted to cannibalism.

Rumors had circulated almost from the start that the colonists had eaten one another, but until recently, no one had found evidence to support the stories. Now, however, that has changed with the discovery of the bones of a 14-year-old girl whose skull and tibia show the distinctive marks of butchery. Even more telling, perhaps, was that her bones were found in a trash site located in the cellar of one of the original homes.

Who was she? Researchers say that she was European and believe she may have arrived a few months before winter began in 1609. Forensic scientists have recreated her face and experts are researching documents and other materials in an attempt to identify her. No one knows at this time whether she was murdered or whether she died of natural causes. Researchers have named her “Jane.”

The surviving settlers were rescued at least when a group of settlers who had been shipwrecked in Bermuda finally arrived in May 1610 with fresh supplies.

There’s more detailed information, along with a photo of “Jane,” at