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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/235

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THE METALS OF ANCIENT CHALDEA.

luminous, glittering crystals, of very hard but fragile material. On analysis it appeared to be nearly pure metallic antimony, containing no notable proportion either of copper, lead, bismuth, or zinc, but only some traces of iron. The patina was an oxysulphuret, which had been formed by the action of the traces of sulphureted hydrogen which exist in the atmosphere. The existence of such a fragment—of a cast vase of pure antimony—is singular, for this metal is not employed pure for any such use in modern industry, although it is often used in alloys; and I know of no similar example in the vessels either of the present or of past times. I had been told, however, that the Japanese used antimony in their manufactures, and I had been presented with a little winged dolphin which was supposed to be made of antimony. But the analysis of this dolphin showed that it was composed of zinc and other associated metals, and was far from being formed of pure antimony. If pure antimony has really been employed by the Japanese—which I doubt—there would have been a curious relation with ancient Chaldean customs.

An extremely curious circumstance, moreover, is the finding of this authentic manufactured fragment of antimony at Tello, a place which had been uninhabited since the time of the Parthians, and which contains the remains of the oldest Chaldean civilization. Antimony, in fact, is supposed not to have been known to the ancients, and not to have been discovered till toward the fifteenth century. Yet we find that the ancients were very well acquainted with our sulphuret of antimony, a natural mineral which they called stibium or stimme, and which they employed for many uses, particularly in medicine. A passage in Dioscorides, repeated by Pliny, leads me to believe that metallic antimony had been obtained in his time. We read, in short, in Dioscorides ("Materia Medica," book iv, chapter xcix): "This mineral is burned by placing it on coals and blowing them to incandescence; if the calcining is prolonged, it changes into lead (μολνθδοῡῑαι)." Pliny says, likewise ("Hist. Nat.," book xxxiii, chapter xxxiv): "The calcining must be done with precaution, in order not to change it into lead (ne plumbum fiat)." These observations agree with phenomena well known to chemists. In fact, the calcining of sulphuret of antimony, particularly in the presence of charcoal, may easily bring it to the condition of fusible and metallic antimony, a substance which Pliny and his contemporaries confounded along with all other dark and easily fusible metals, with lead. The existence of the Tello vase proves that in Mesopotamia, likewise, and in probably a much more ancient age, they had tried to make cast vases with this supposed variety of lead, which was less liable to change than ordinary lead.

The metallic votive figurine of Tello suggests no less curious observations. It represents a divine personage, kneeling and holding a kind of metallic point or cone. It has engraved upon it the name of