Metals & ancient polychromy


The provenance of metal compounds of siliceous and vitreous archaeological materials


Tiles of a Neo-Babylonian faunal relief, part of the collection of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek (photo: A.S. Rodler)

[1] The siliceous mineral ‘Egyptian blue’ is the earliest known human-made pigment. It was commonly used among ancient Mediterranean cultures. Yet, little is known about production centers or sources of raw materials. Variations in lead isotope ratios can be useful for fingerprinting the geological source of metals. This has the potential to indicate local production or importation.
The lead isotope ratios of the investigated samples of Egyptian blue pigments revealed a highly complex and far-reaching trade network linking, e.g. Egyptian (1st century BC) and Etruscan (late 4th century BCE) artefacts with Aegean metal sources.

[2] The polychrome glazes from the Processional Way and the Ishtar Gate of ancient Babylon are among the best preserved from antiquity. Yet, little is known about the technological and logistical choices involved in their production. Trace elements, lead and copper isotope ratios were used for assessing potential geological sources of raw materials.

These projects were part of ‘Transmission and Transformation: ‘Ancient Polychromy in an Architectural Context’, funded by the Calrsbergfondet.