Part 1 - Ancient Civilizations
The history of palladium naturally starts with the history of platinum and the platinum group metals of which palladium is a member. Whether platinum was recognized as a separate body by early civilizations is doubtful. Traces of it have been found among artifacts from ancient Egypt, the best known example being a small strip of native platinum set on the surface of a box among many hieroglyphic inscriptions, dated to the seventh century BC and from Thebes. It had been hammered out in the same fashion that Thebian craftsmen treated silver, and most likely had been mistaken by them for silver.
The most successful early exploitation of platinum occurred rather in the Americas – the New World – by the Esmeraldas people in the coastal region of Northern Ecuador many centuries before the arrival of the Spanish. Small pieces of jewelry, rings, pendants, etc., have been found made of platinum or of platinum and gold combined, which displayed significant and sophisticated metallurgical skill. William Farabee, distinguished anthropologist of the University of Pennsylvania (1865-1925) wrote about one find:
“The native Indian workers of Esmeraldas were metallurgists of marked ability; they were the only people who manufactured platinum jewelry. In our collection will be seen objects of pure platinum, objects with a platinum background set with tiny balls of gold used to form a border, and objects with one side platinum and the other side gold.”
The Indian’s metallurgic method aroused considerable curiosity, and further study by others pointed to the conclusion that they had used a quite sophisticated technique of powder metallurgy – sintering in the presence of a liquid phase. Radio carbon dating has placed the date of these artifacts to between the first and fourth centuries AD. Photomicrographs of some samples, both of objects identified as starting materials and of finished pieces, clearly showed the presence of sintering and the dispersion of platinum particles in a gold matrix. Few of platinum finds from Ecuador or Columbia have an archeological context, unfortunately, because they were found by treasure hunters. Jewelry appears to have continued to be made up until the time of the conquest. Many centuries passed before the Spanish rediscovered the source of the platinum and longer yet before the scientists of Europe could make it malleable and useful.
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