This winter, Gilberto Artioli’s team reported the structures of three new pigment molecules. Because the molecules came from samples that originated near Verona, Italy, the Univ. of Padua geoarchaeologist named two of the brilliant blue dyes after Verona’s Shakespearean star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet. Artioli’s dyes are also the protagonists of a drama of their own. And for some researchers, things might have been better if the pigments had never existed.
Artioli’s samples came from prehistoric flint tools that last year began showing very visible signs of contamination—a bright blue tinge. The mystery sparked a furor in Italy and in the archaeology community. In ensuing media coverage, the case became as much about finding human culprits for the damage as about finding chemical ones. Read more.