Scientists Are Using an Ancient Egyptian Pigment to Create New Technologies

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The ancient Egyptians famously built massive pyramids and developed hieroglyphics, but they're also credited with inventing the world's earliest-known artificial pigment. Today referred to as Egyptian blue, the deep azure shade was first created about 4600 years ago by heating together sand (containing quartz), minerals with copper, and natron, a salty mixture of sodium compounds used for embalming mummies. When ground together, this chemical concoction was a dead ringer for a pricier pigment made from a semi-precious blue stone called lapis lazuli, SciShow's Michael Aranda explains in the video below.

Egyptian blue was a popular color, and the hue appeared on coffins, pottery, and murals. But like most trends, the color fell out of fashion once red and yellow became big in Roman art. The pigment's recipe was lost until the 19th century, when scientists first began analyzing the chemical composition of artifacts bearing the ancient hue.

Scientists today know how to recreate Egyptian blue—but instead of using it to paint their labs, they're researching ways to incorporate the pigment into dyes for medical imaging techniques, creating new types of security ink, and even making dusting powder for fingerprint detection.

Learn how the newly discovered scientific properties of Egyptian blue can make these inventions possible by watching SciShow's video below.