The past is the key to the present. This scientific maxim generally means that the laws of nature in the ancient world still operate precisely the same today. The same applies to technologies, and a 6,000-year-old amulet resembling a rusty wheel is providing researchers with a rather curious tale that spans millennia.
As reported by the Washington Post, not only is this wonky, tiny, wheel-like object a representation of a technology that was way ahead of its time, but it’s also the very same that is partly responsible for taking humanity to the stars.
First uncovered 35 years ago by archaeologists at Mehrgarh in Pakistan, this amulet was handed to a team of physicists working at the National Center for Scientific Research in France.
Deciding to take a closer look at the strange corrosion covering its sickly green surface, the researchers bombarded it with powerful wavelengths of light, which excited the amulet’s electrons and caused them to emit their own various frequencies of electromagnetic radiation.
As reported in the journal Nature Communications, this technique – known as full-field photoluminescence – revealed that microscopic, bristly rods of a copper-oxide compound. It appears that while attempting to make an amulet out of pure copper, parts of it became oxygenated during the production process.
The misshapen nature of the amulet and these weird, unique spikes suggest that the method used for making the amulet was a process known as lost-wax casting, a key development in metallurgy.
In fact, this amulet is the oldest known example of lost-wax casting ever found, and it genuinely triggered a technological revolution. It was used to make knives, utensils, and statues of kings, queens, gods and devils.
How the amulet was constructed. NPG Press via Washington Post
Zoom forward six millennia, and we have NASA, easily one of the most high-tech organizations on the planet. It’s easy to see that in the 58 years since it was founded, the pace of technological innovation has been extraordinary.
It’s important to remember, though, that plenty of their science and technology is based on quite old principles and methods. After all, Newton’s equations describing force and gravity – while being less accurate than Einstein’s – are still being used today.
As you may have already guessed, even lost-wax casting is still being used by NASA. A variant of it known as investment casting is used to produce equipment that can survive the harsh environs of space. Some of it is aboard the International Space Station right now, and some is attached to the Curiosity Mars rover.
So there we have it. From ancient Pakistan to low-Earth orbit, a thread of science, running from the past right through to the present, and no doubt into the future.
[H/T: Washington Post]