Ancient Pigments - Botanical Extract Dyes Past Count:456 Date:9/11/2015 1:51:23 PM

By K. Kris Hirst Archaeology Expert

Ancient pigments were created by all human cultures on earth at least since the early modern humans used ochre to stain themselves, to paint walls and objects, some 70,000 years ago in South Africa. The investigations of pigments have led to some interesting conclusions about how pigments were manufactured and what roles they played in prehistoric and historic societies.

Egyptian Blue

Egyptian blue is an ancient pigment manufactured by the Bronze Age Egyptians and Mesopotamia and adopted by Imperial Rome. First used circa 2600 BC, Egyptian blue decorated many art objects, pottery vessels and walls.

Vermillion (Cinnabar)

Cinnabar, also known as mercury sulfide, is a highly toxic natural mineral found in igneous deposits all over the world. The first documented use of the brilliant vermillion color to date is at the Neolithic village of Çatalhöyük, in what is today Turkey. Traces of cinnabar have been identified within burials preserved at the 8,000-9,000 year old site.

I couldn't find a photo from a Çatalhöyük burial illustrating cinnabar use: I suspect evidence is trace amounts really visible in photographs. This vermillion-coated stone sarcophagus is the famous Mayan Red Queen tomb at Palenque.


Saffron's intensive yellow color has been prized by ancient cultures for some 4,000 years. Its color comes from the three stigmas of the crocus flower, which must be plucked and processed within a brief window of opportunity: two to four weeks in the autumn. Domesticated in the Mediterranean, probably by the Minoans, saffron is also used for its flavor and aroma.

Tags:Botanical Extract Dyes,Natural Pigment

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