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The secret of black copper

The cabinet exhibition of the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection is dedicated in a special presentation to the mysterious material Corinthium Aes - the "Corinthian bronze".

Krokodil © Privatsammlung Matthias Lehr

For a long time, knowledge of the complex manufacturing process was considered lost. A goldsmith from Nuremberg dared to reconstruct it. In the Neues Museum, modern and ancient Egyptian objects now enter into dialogue.

Corinthium Aes is a special alloy of copper, enriched with gold, silver or arsenic. After a complex treatment with copper salt solutions, the material acquires a deep violet to almost black patina. The special feature is that this layer can recede independently through skin sweat if it is damaged or scratched.

Even in ancient times, people were fascinated by these properties. Philosophers such as Herodotus, Pliny and Plutarch wrote enthusiastically about the beauty of the valuable "Corinthian ore".

In Ancient Egypt, the material was already known in the third millennium BC and was called "black copper". In the course of history, knowledge of its composition and production developed into secret knowledge and was eventually almost completely lost.

However, thanks to the study of sources and exact material determinations on ancient objects, the goldsmith Matthias Lehr and the archaeologist Alessandra Giumlia-Mair have succeeded in reconstructing the process of making this alloy.

"Corinthium Aes. The Mystery of Black Copper" is curated by:
  • Olivia Zorn, deputy director of the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection.
  • Rebekka Pabst, research assistant in advanced training at the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection.

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Additional information
Opening hours:
Tue, Wed, Fri, Sat + Sun: 10 am - 6 pm
Thu: 10 am - 20 pm