first DTA analyses

First DTA tests were carried out with CuSn alloys to be certain that the protocol of investigation works and the alloy to be studied is not going to contaminate the DTA. For the analyses, a NETZSCH DSC 404C was used. The alloys (CuAs with 3, 4, and 5 wt.% As) were sealed in tantalum crucibles in Ar atmosphere. First cooling rates were fixed at 2, 5, 10, and 20 K/min. With the selected alloys we still remain in the range of the Cu based alpha solid solution. With the 2K/min cooling rate no eutectic transformation was noticed, which is coherent with the equilibrium phase diagram. 4 and 5 wt% As show already at 5K/min and 10K/min signs of eutectic transformation, which happens at lower temperature than in the phase diagram. The measurements at 20K/min are missing for CuAs-3 and will be re-measured. The measurements for the alloys with 1, 2, 6, and 7 wt.% As are currently carried out. Further analyses are planned with 8, 11, and 19 wt.% As, in order to achieve a complete set of data to draw the liquidus curve and the interception with the eutectic line.

For the sake of beauty… II

For the sake of beauty… II

Being beautiful in Victorian England was not healthy, especially for those wishing to obtain a “natural” look: washing the face with ammonia, opium masks overnight, mercury eye treatment, arsenic skin whiteners… others, following the “painted” look, were not better off: using lead paint destroyed their skin and had various other side effects on their health.

All to fullfill the ideal look of the consumptive with watery eyes, pale and traslucent skin. Shortly, the closer the skin resembled that of a corpse, the better it was. One could achieve that look by a “natural” way, or by painting yourself. While the latter included for the average lady several quite “unnatural treatments”, the “painted” lady coated their faces and arms with white paints and enamels. Unfortunately, these paints were made from lead, which is highly corrosive. That means, you need to use more paint every time, since it destroyed your skin underneath. One might then paint veins on the enamel e.g. with indigo dye veins.

Advertisment for Dr. Ammett’s French Arsenic Complexion Wafers

Beauty columns such as in Harper’s Bazaar (“the ugly Girl Papers: Or, Hints for the Toilet“) were widespread and promised, as today, with just a few dress and makeup adjustements a trasformation from average to charming.

To look almost dead, arsenic was quite helpfull (it’s all about the dose!): nibbling on Arsenic Complexion Wafers was considered as “perfectly harmless” and used widely. Of course the toxity of arsenic was known (it was commonly used by murderesses of the era), but, since it was so effective in skin lightening, its usage continued for decades. Also, it was said to remove pimples, clear the face of freckles and tan and will make you a charm of person and simply adorable. Needless to say, that you also had to use arsenic soap and shampoo.

Lola Montez describes in her “The Arts of Beauty” women in Bohemia taking baths in arsenic springs, and drinking the water, “which gave their skins a transparent whiteness“. But, as she continues, there are also side effects: “for when once they habituate themselves to the practice, they are obliged to keep it up for the rest of their days, or death would speedily follow“. One might think of the japanese self-mummified monks (known as sokushinbutsu), followers of shugendō, an ancient form of Buddhism, who died in the ultimate act of self-denial. Apart their diet, a local spring containing high levels of arsenic may have helped the monks in the mummification process.

A warning about food adulteration in the cartoon "The Great Lozenge-Maker. A Hint to Paterfamilias" (1858) by John Leech

Warning about food adulteration (1858, John Leech; Photo).

…à propos conservation/preservation: I might focus on arsenic in taxidermy (and also for human preservation, such as in the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland) later on.

Arsenic was simply everywhere in Victorian England: apart cosmetics, and medicines, it was in the food, on the walls, and in textiles. The German scientist Frederik Accum was fed up with the manipulation of the food industry in London and published his A Treatise on Adulterations of Food and Culinary Poisons. In the book, he noted for instance the contamination of wine with arsenic. So also the glass of wine you were nipping off at your ball in Victorian England was probably full of arsenic.

The Arsenic Waltz or The New Dance of Death (1862 issue of Punch; Photo: Wellcome Library, London/Courtesy Bloomsbury)

The Arsenic Waltz or The New Dance of Death (1862 issue of Punch; Photo: Wellcome Library, London/Courtesy Bloomsbury)

Effect of arsenic used in artificial flowermaking on workers’ hands (1859; Photo: Wellcome Library, London/Courtesy Bloomsbury)

Effect of arsenic used in artificial flowermaking on workers’ hands (1859; Photo: Wellcome Library, London/Courtesy Bloomsbury)

Hopefully you were not wearing any green dress? Green ball gowns were usually tinted with arsenic. I don’t want to imagine the health condition of the persons making these dresses, but contemporary chromolithograph showing the effect of arsenic used in artificial flowermaking on workers’ hands may give an impression.


Feeling bad? Having syphilis? Take some arsenic!

Despite its known unhealthy, or even lethal characteristics, arsenic is a common ingredience in several medical prescriptions through time, and, apart from his bad reputation, often quite helpful.

Freiwillig aufgesprungener Granatapfel des Christlichen Samariters (Nürnberg 1731)

Freiwillig aufgesprungener Granatapfel des Christlichen Samariters (Nürnberg 1731)

I still remember wondering about the usage of arsenic in a prescription for hurting fingernails, which I read when I was eleven. The book was printed in 1731, and I loved to read through all the oddities it contained. The prescription explaines how to remove a fingernail without pain, and make it grow again:

Take gummi serapinum [Sagapenum], arsenic, both of the same quantity, powdered, and then make it with nut oil to a cream, put it on a fine cloth, and place all on the fingernail. The fingernail then can be removed without pain, then take a cold lye, and wash your toes or fingers with it.

The consumation of a pudding with arsenic was already noted earlier, as was the consumation of arsenic with bread or speck, e.g. for its performance-enhancing characteristics.

To remove a fingernail without pain, and make it grow again

To remove a fingernail without pain, and make it grow again

Arsenic, apart generally causing cancer when exposed to it, also has positive effects on cancer, e.g. when directly applied on the carcinoma (already noted by H. Simon, Die Behandlung der Geschwülste, Berlin 1914) – but not only. It it also used to treat a type of acute myeloid leukaemia called acute promyelocytic leukaemia (see here), and shows good promises in cancer treatment.

One of the earlier medicines against syphilis was made of arsenic and showed far less negative side effects than the previously used mercury (with severe side effects such as neuropathies, kidney failure, and severe mouth ulcers and loss of teeth). Arsphenamine (or Salvarsan / compound 606) was first synthesised in 1907 by P. Ehrlich and S. Hata and widely used (see also the “magic bullet“). The administration of treatment was complex requiring many injections over a long period of time, and it also produced toxic side effects, which were reduced by combining it with small doses of bismuth and mercury.

Salvarsan kit sold by W. Martindale

Salvarsan kit sold by W. Martindale

In the beginning of the 1940s, the arsenical compounds were supplanted as treatments for syphilis by penicillin. Not so in Eastern Germany; after the 2WW, the number of syphilis-infections rose dramatically, and Salvarsan or Neo-Salvarsan were not available. E. Schmitz (Magdeburg) managed to synthesise Neo-Salvarsan, which was sold as Arsaminol and later Neo-Arsoluin, and still contained arsenic; consequently, also syphilis infections dropped significantly in Eastern Germany. 

For the sake of beauty…

Beauty standards for women existed already in the Middle Ages; white skin and a high forehead were just a few of them. To get rid of disturbing facial hair, women used razors, tweezers, bees wax, or pumice stone. However, one could also eliminate the hair with a highly alkaline solution made of calcium oxide (quicklime) and orpigment (arsenic trisulfide), mixed with water and oil. This alkaline solution melts the hair from the skin’s surface. In Europe, its oldest recipe can be found in the 12th century Trotula. The recipe’s origin is in the Near East, where it is known as  rhusma turkorum.


Palma Vecchio, Diana and Callisto (c. 1525/1528) (c) Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Variations of it can be found in many other mediaeval and renaissance beauty books. Alternatives were probably less dangerous, but surely more creative: they included ingredients such as dog milk, boiled leeches, burnt and powdered young doves, bat blood, and others (Nürnberg, Stadtbibliothek, Cod. Amb. 55, Nr. 37; Karlsruhe, Kodex St. Georgen 73, fol. 205v und 214r).

 One might think that the arsenic-rich way of hair removal was not in use for long, especially taking into account the risk of your flesh coming off, as indicated by a book from the 16th century on how to remove or lose body hair: “boil one pint of arsenic and eight pints of quicklime. Go to a bath or hot room and place the mixture on the body, where you want to remove the hair. When the skin feels hot, wash it quickly with hot water, so your flesh does not come off”.

Surprisingly, the most recent recipe I found dates from the beginning of the 20th century AD (Italian manual “per esser belle”, Sonzogno/Milan, 1906): 40g calcium oxide, 5g arsenic, a bit of soap, and one yolk are mixed together, and then applied on the skin for one hour. One may then rub some olive oil on the skin. After washing, the hairs fall off (let’s hope just the hair, and not your flesh).

Project presentation at the IRAMAT-CRP2A, Bordeaux

IRAMAT-CRP2A : les séminaire mensuels ont repris!

L’Institut de recherche en archéomatériaux – Centre de recherche en physique appliquée à l’Archéologie (IRAMAT-CRP2A) propose un séminaire autour du thème “Chemical and metallurgical aspects of arsenical bronze: the case of arsenic-loss in prehistoric metal production“, présenté par Marianne Mödlinger, titulaire d’une bourse Marie Curie. Il aura lieu le 23 octobre 2015, 12:30 à Pessac (salle Archéométrie du CRP2A).

Ordering copper

Thanks to Benjamin Sabatini, who made me aware of this very kind complain about bad quality copper, and misbehaving merchants in Ur. The complaint is from around 1750 BC. I would like to know about something similar mentioning arsenic too!

Clay tablet; letter from Nanni to Ea-nasir complaining that the wrong grade of copper ore has been delivered after a gulf voyage and about misdirection and delay of a further delivery. (© The Trustees of the British Museum. Museum number: 131236).

Clay tablet; letter from Nanni to Ea-nasir complaining that the wrong grade of copper ore has been delivered after a gulf voyage and about misdirection and delay of a further delivery (© The Trustees of the British Museum. Museum number: 131236).

When you came, you said to me as follows: “I will give Gimil-Sin (when he comes) fine quality copper ingots.” You left then but you did not do what you promised me. You put ingots which were not good before my messenger (Sit-Sin) and said: “If you want to take them, take them; if you do not want to take them, go away!” What do you take me for, that you treat somebody like me with such contempt?

I have sent as messengers gentlemen like ourselves to collect the bag with my money (deposited with you) but you have treated me with contempt by sending them back to me empty-handed several times, and that through enemy territory. Is there anyone among the merchants who trade with Telmun who has treated me in this way? You alone treat my messenger with contempt! On account of that one (trifling) mina of silver which I owe(?) you, you feel free to speak in such a way, while I have given to the palace on your behalf 1,080 pounds of copper, and umi-abum has likewise given 1,080 pounds of copper, apart from what we both have had written on a sealed tablet to be kept in the temple of Samas.

How have you treated me for that copper? You have withheld my money bag from me in enemy territory; it is now up to you to restore (my money) to me in full. Take cognizance that (from now on) I will not accept here any copper from you that is not of fine quality. I shall (from now on) select and take the ingots individually in my own yard, and I shall exercise against you my right of rejection because you have treated me with contempt.

See the tablet at the British Museum here.

Arsenic in American Red wine

On average, American red wine has more than twice the arsenic level allowed in drinking water.

Arsenic and old lace

Arsenic and old lace

A new University of Washington study that tested 65 wines from America’s top four wine-producing states (California, Washington, New York and Oregon) found all but one have arsenic levels that exceed what’s allowed in drinking water (which is 10 parts per billion of arsenic). The wine samples ranged from 10 to 76 parts per billion, with an average of 24 parts per billion. But also other products, such as apple juice, rice, or cereal bars, are high in arsenic or contain significant amounts of arsenic (milk, bottled water, infant formula, salmon and tuna).

“Unless you are a heavy drinker consuming wine with really high concentrations of arsenic, of which there are only a few, there’s little health threat if that’s the only source of arsenic in your diet,” said Wilson.

But it’s not just the red wine.

“consumers need to look at their diets as a whole. If you are eating a lot of contaminated rice, organic brown rice syrup, seafood, wine, apple juice — all those heavy contributors to arsenic poisoning — you should be concerned, especially pregnant women, kids and the elderly,” so Wilson.

The food that posed the largest risk of arsenic poisoning was infant formula made with organic brown rice syrup, an alternative to high-fructose corn syrup. Wilson estimated that some infants eating large amounts of certain formulas may be getting more than 10 times the daily maximum dose of arsenic.

So kids, don’t flush your infant formula with red wine!

Re-blogged from eurekalert and iflscience. You find the original study of Denise Wilson in the Journal of Environmental Health. It was published in October 2015.