An electroplating experiment I did thanks to Pharaoh Pepi I

by Gigal

This post is also available in: French

Electroplating experiment thanks to pharaoh Pepi I

Here is an experiment of electroplating I did in a laboratory environment of a friend, to find a technique that I think was used in Ancient Egypt for the plating of copper statues. For that, I built a gravity battery that the Ancient Egyptians could have created with materials of their time: they had them available, at least at the time of the 6th Dynasty and even before. 

Then I successfully repeated the operation in public during one of my conferences in London in March 2009.


Electroplating possible for Ancient Egyptians -Egyptian gravity battery©AntoineGigal

So I had to perform an electroplating operation. First of all for those who do not know, here is the definition of the word “galvanization” by Wikipedia : ” Galvanization or galvanizing is the process of applying a protective zinc coating to steel or iron, to prevent rusting. The most common method is hot-dip galvanizing, in which the parts are submerged in a bath of molten zinc.”  


The Gravity battery at the start of copper plating©AntoineGigal

But what inspired me to find this technique, known as modern, among the ancient Egyptians, is the observation of the statues of Pepi I without which I would not arrive at this experimentation.

Pepi I : the Pharaoh very interested in mines

Pepi I was a strong and enterprising Pharaoh who pursued a policy of expansion to Nubia, trade to Lebanon and the Somali coast. With his army chief, a certain Ouni, he led expeditions to Byblos in present-day Lebanon and in Sinai and in the land of Canaan, in order to ensure the exploitation of the quarries and the mines of which he was particularly fond. What interests us here because the technology of metals took a giant step during his reign.

gigal_in _nekhen

©AntoineGigal in Nekhen, Egypt

In 1897, among other things, two statues of Pharaoh Pepi I were found in the tunnels of a temple of Horus in Nekhen, Hierakonpolis, “the city of hawks”, one of the cradles of Pharaonic Egypt. They are considered the oldest known life-size statues in metal of the world and date from the reign of the Pharaoh Pépi 1 st: 2260/2254 Before J.-C.

Before storing the two statues you see in black and white here, the priests had disassembled them, placing them one inside the other, and then sealed them together with a thin layer of copper bearing the titles and names of the Pharaoh Pepi I and the inscription: “On the first day of the Jubilee” or feast of the Heb Sed . This Heb Sed festival constituting a sensible event to revitalize Pharaoh and give him somehow the downstream of the sky to govern.


Pepi Junior by Jon Bodsworth [Copyrighted free use], via Wikimedia Commons

Pepi I adult by Jon Bodsworth [Copyrighted free use], via Wikimedia Commons

Both statues of Pepi I ©CairoMuseum

And while the identity of the tall adult figure is revealed by the inscription: it is indeed the Pharaoh Pepi I, the identity of the smaller and younger statue remains unresolved. And the most common assumption among Egyptologists is that the young man of the smaller statue was Merenra the son of Pepi I. But this is an assumption that I do not share and I’m not the only one because more recently it has been suggested that the smallest statue is actually that of a younger Pepy I, reinvigorated by the celebration of the ceremonies of the Jubilee. And Pepi I, had also “Menrenra” as a throne title name : “The Beloved of Ra”.

As for the ancient Egyptians as all material creation had its counterpart in heaven, it was probably important for the Pharaoh to maintain an image of him younger on earth by the way of a statue and therefore with his counterpart in the sky, to benefit a long time from the revitalization of the Heb Sed ceremony.

The common assumption is that both statues were made of hammered copper on wooden forms … but in reality I do not think so … Look carefully at the refined facial features and the lines of the legs no traces of hammering and an incomparable smoothness …

The problem of electroplating resolved

The experts in electroplating have another explanation: they said that these statues were made by electroplating on wood. Then the wood disappeared while burning. But the dilemma is that no generator ( Baghdad battery) has been discovered in Egypt.

I will solve this problem by showing that they have been able to use a sort of Daniell battery called “Gravity Battery” and I will try to demonstrate that the Egyptians could have made one and could use everyday containers for that.

I will use for this experience things that the ancient Egyptians had:


Gravity battery before assembling ©AntoineGigal

1- An Egyptian stone statue of Pharaoh intended to mark a mold
2- A model mold in lost wax with copper wires
3- Copper sulphate crystals
4- Condensed sulphate solution
5- diluted copper solution
6- Sulfate solution
7- Zinc sheet (or ferrous piece of meteorite)
8- Graphite powder (or gold powder)
9- I used 2 glass containers to better see the experience but the ancient Egyptians could have used ceramic containers (they had as shown in the picture of the Sakkara southern tomb below)


Sakkara ceramic tiles©antoinegigale-2018

You can see in the following pictures the steps of the whole experience:



Mold for lost wax model:


Mold for lost wax with copper wires ©AntoineGigal-2018


What is also interesting is that with the meteoritic iron anode, we also see layers of rust deposits in the bottom of the containers, it was then a strong symbol for the ancient Egyptians : They used something from the sky , meteoritic iron for example, to cover the pharaonic statue with a metallic skin giving it a kind of immortality … At the same time the meteoric stone used in the experiment process became deposits of rust and disappeared (returning to its origin ..)


chemical reaction


Results of copper plating ©Antoinegigal

This experiment was carried out in 2009 and was shown in public during my conference in London in March 2009. The Results of the experiment in the picture , I did it also the same experiment on a small pyramid model.
Text, Photos©®AntoineGigal-2009-2018
Copyright©2018. All rights reserved.

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Who is Gigal ?
More on Gigal :


Antoine Gigal in Nekhen ancient site, Egypt ©AntoineGigal-2018

- Gudo HEINZ Documentation of the oldest known life size metal sculpture using laser scanning & photogrammetry
-Yannis Gourdon, Pépy Ier et la VIe dynastie, Paris, Pygmalion, 2016 
-Jean Leclant, Nouvelles recherches et découvertes dans le nécropole de Pépi I et ses reines au Sud de Saqqarah, Universitätsverlag, Leipzig, 1997.

This post is also available in: French

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