Invention & Origin Of Chemistry – Since prehistoric times, the domain of the fire allows the development of the first chemical arts: the meta-lurgia, the pottery, and the kitchen. However, the systematic production of chemicals develops later, as it corresponds to the needs of complex societies.
Origin of chemistry: the first pigments and drugs
You have to wait for the birth of the ancient empires of Egypt and Mesopotamia to observe the development of true chemical science.
Until then, this technique remains in the hands of blacksmiths and potters, who certainly enjoy a privileged position, just like their peers of the classical period.
The historian Jack Lindsay recalls on metallurgy and pottery, that “these important craft systems, which involve the intervention of dangerous forces and crucial moments of transformation, were surrounded by secret rituals, oaths, and the most diverse mysteries”.
This point is important because originally chemistry is often confused with religious and magical practices that later facilitate the development of alchemy in the Hellenistic period and in the Arab world, but hinder the transmission of technical procedures.
Frequently, these have been disclosed in a secret language, in the bosom of brotherhoods jealous of their knowledge: “Let the one who knows teach the one who knows, but the one who knows will not teach the one who does not know,” says a 7th-century book.
However, this custom is especially valid for sacred techniques, such as embalming, or even for those that are at the limit of legality, such as the manufacture of forgeries.
It applies much less to the creation of chemicals used in daily life about which papyri and cuneiform writings, as well as the analysis of archaeological remains, have given us accurate information.
It is known that in Egypt and Mesopotamia they were manufactured since the IV millennium BC. C. numerous pigments for wall paintings, cosmetics, and pottery decoration (red, orange, yellow, brown, green, blue, black, white).
The craftsmen prepared them from ocher, but also using cobalt, antimoniate lead, malachite, copper silicate, iron oxide, lapis lazuli, galena, gypsum, and chalk.
These last two materials, as well as clay and lime, are also used for the manufacture of plasters.
In the field of culinary art, it has been proven that fermentation and vinification processes and the preparation of oils have been known since ancient times throughout the eastern Mediterranean basin, as well as food preservation (drying and salting).
Enamel techniques, which led to the discovery of glass, were born in Egypt in the 4th millennium BC. C., and spread or are invented independently in Mesopotamia in the III millennium BC. C.
Evolution of chemistry
There, asphalt is used as a putty, mortar, and as a waterproof coating, saponification techniques are also known.
On the other hand, in Ancient Egypt, they make primitive glues based on casein, starch from seeds; varnishes, and candles made of beeswax or gum arabic, sodium, or Altamura-based detergents.
Medical science is perfected by the end of the second millennium. C., which leads to the manufacture of aromatic drugs made with plants, ointments, and ointments, etc.
The art of perfume, intended for hygienic uses, is developed both in Egypt and in Mesopotamia.
Since the III millennium BC. C., in both areas the manufacture of organic dyes, fixatives composed of alum, earth, copper, and iron salts, solvents made from cooking vegetables with urine, organic acids (vinegar), sulfates, and carbonates.
However, only later, with the development of alchemy, in 4th century BC Greco-Roman Egypt, attempts are made for a theoretical systematization of all this empirical knowledge.
Chemistry of the false
As we have commented previously, the elaboration of fake products represented an advance and the development of certain rudimentary chemical techniques. For example:
The Stockholm Papyrus is a document, dating from the third century of our era, comprising 152 recipes, several of them dedicated to the manufacture of fake gemstones.
Although considered crude by contemporary specialists, these forgeries denote some technical skill and some knowledge of chemistry :
- To make a pearl, take a stone, such as mica, and grind it. Then take gum tragacanth and let it soften for ten days in cow’s milk. Once softened, dissolve it until it becomes as thick as glue.
- Then melt tub wax, add to this the white of an egg and some mercury: two parts of mercury for three parts of stone, but only one part for the other substances.
- Mix (the ground mica and the melted wax) and knead the mixture with the mercury. Soften the paste in the gum solution and the contents of a chicken egg. Mix all the liquids with the pasta in this way.
- So, prepare the shape you have chosen for the pearl. Pasta quickly turns to stone. Make a few deep circular footprints and hollow them out while the mixture is still wet.
- Let the pearl solidify and polish it well. If you follow these instructions, the result will exceed the original.
Papyrus of Leyde
The Leyde papyrus is also from the 3rd century. This writing gives 111 recipes related to metals and alloys and indicates the procedures for the imitation of precious metals.
From those attempts to give the appearance of gold to common metals, mixed with Eastern and Greek mystical beliefs, the idea of transmuting metal into gold was born, which gives rise to alchemy.
A passage from this work illustrates the idea of making copper like gold:
“Grind cumin; Pour water on top, dilute, and let stand for three days. On the fourth day, stir the mixture and, if you want to use it as a veneer, mix it with chrysolite (a fine stone made of copper silicate). In this way, it will give it the appearance of gold ”.
Drugs and embalming
Within the work Histories, of the Greek historian Herodotus of century V a. C., you can read how certain drugs were already used for embalming the deceased in ancient times. Let’s see it:
This is how embalmers do the most careful embalming: first, by means of an iron hook, they pull the brain out of the nose; in this way they manage to extract a part, and what remains, by injecting certain drugs into the skull.
Then, with a cutting blade of Ethiopian stone, they make an incision along the side, remove the viscera, clean the abdomen and purify it with palm wine and, again, with crushed aromatic plants.
Afterward, they fill the belly with pure ground myrrh, cinnamon, and all the aromatic substances that they know, with the exception of incense, and they sew it up again. After that, they leave the body covering it with natron for seventy days; this time should not be exceeded.