Three new bright blue pigments with origins in the hometown of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet have become stars in a drama that is unsettling experts on conservation of archaeological treasures around the world. That’s the topic of an article on the solution of an archaeological ‘whodunit’ involving those new-to-science pigments in the current edition of Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), ACS’ weekly newsmagazine.
C&EN Associate Editor Carmen Drahl notes in the article that the drama began last year when prehistoric flint tools began showing visible signs of contamination — a bright blue tinge. The tainted relics came from a museum in Verona, Italy, the setting for Shakeaspeare’s great tragedy. Archaeologists were fascinated, having never encountered such a color change in their careers, especially one involving a hard stone like flint.
Scientists just identified the pigments responsible for the blue color, naming them Romeo Blue, Juliet Blue, and Flint Blue. They traced the possible origins of the pigments to an ingredient in synthetic rubber mats which held the tools, and contaminated them. The incident is creating a new awareness among museum conservation experts about the possibility of other, previously unknown interactions occurring between ancient treasures and the environments in which they are stored.