Source: The Independent
By Tony Paterson in Berlin
Published: 06 December 2007
German archaeologists claim to have found traces of a glue they say was made by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago and used to mount silver laurel leaves on legionnaires' battle helmets.
Researchers at the Rhineland historical museum in Bonn said they had found remnants of the glue on a legionnaire's iron helmet unearthed near the town of Xanten. It had lain on what was once the bed of the Rhine for at least 1,500 years.
Frank Willer, the museum's chief restorer, said researchers came across the glue by surprise while removing a tiny sample of metal from the helmet with a fine saw. The heat from the tool caused silver laurel leaves decorating the helmet to peel off leaving thread-like traces of the glue behind.
"It is a sensational find and a complete stroke of luck that we were still able to find traces of the substance on the helmet after 2,000 years," Mr Willer said.
The museum's team of archaeologists maintains that, as the helmet lay on the river-bed for so long, its glue was not exposed to the destructive effects of the atmosphere and therefore did not lose its adhesive power.
Mr Willer said that other Roman remains, including ancient battle masks, kept by the museum bore traces of silver decorations and had probably been glued in the same way. Their condition has deteriorated too far to find evidence of glue.
Analysis shows that the Roman glue was made of bitumen, beef tallow and pitch. But researchers said they had failed so far to recreate the adhesive and that sawdust, soot or sand might have to be added to complete the process.
"When we finally manage to remake the superglue, it will easily compete with its modern equivalents," Mr Willer said. "After all, which of today's glues stick for 2,000 years?"