It goes without saying that technology is everywhere! Just look around you: laptops, cameras, cell phones, and even electric cars! The element hiding behind all your gadgets is cobalt. It is a lusterous, silvery element that is used to produce rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and even color TVs. And it is used for even more than this. It is essential in the production of magnets, vitamin b12, and military products.
Get this though: Ancient civilizations pioneered the large-scale consumption of cobalt long before lithium-batteries were even a thought! Who would have thunk there was a world before iPhones and laptops, right?! Believe it or not, cobalt’s production first showed up nearly 4,000 years ago!
A piece of blue glass was the first object known to contain cobalt. It was found in Mesopotamia and dates to around 2,000 BC. This was the beginning of a long tradition of ancient glass making using cobalt! The glass is known today simply as ‘Egyptian blue glass’.
This is probably because, not too far away from Mesopotamia, Egypt became the hub of cobalt blue glass production. By the time of the eighteenth Egyptian dynasty (1550 BC), Egypt became synonymous with cobalt blue glass. A glass-making factory, dating to 1250 BC, was even found!
Not only was Egypt producing its own blue glass from cobalt, but it was apparently distributing cobalt through-out the Mediterranean. Fifty percent of the glass excavated from sites in Persia and Mesopotamia source from Egypt. Even 9th century French glasses are traced back to this Egyptian source of cobalt blue glass.
Moving forward into the 14th century AD, cobalt was utilized in the Iberian Peninsula to produce signature blue-decorated ceramics. This area became an important center for blue-decorated ceramic trade. Such a homogenous style of decoration was achieved across regions that it is recognized as its own typology of pottery- Muel Type.
As time progressed, cobalt’s popularity among ancient peoples continued to grow. Some of the most treasured Chinese sculptures from the Tang dynasty were glazed with cobalt blue.
“Cobalt was a treasured commodity imported from the Middle East; it was more valuable than gold. Its use means the horse was for someone of the highest rank,” said Chinese art specialist J.J. Lally to the New York Times.
We still treasure cobalt today– we just don’t know it. But every time you turn on something battery powered, watch TV, or wonder how your hip replacement is doing, its cobalt that you can thank. And who knows, maybe your iPhone can be sourced to the famous ancient cobalt source in Egypt!