Raman imaging to quantify the thermal transformation degree of Pompeian yellow ochre caused by the 79 AD Mount Vesuvius eruption


Most of the wall paintings from Pompeii are decorated with red and yellow colors but the thermal impact of 79 AD Mount Vesuvius eruption promoted the partial transformation of some yellow-painted areas into red. The aim of this research is to develop a quantitative Raman imaging methodology to relate the transformation percentage of yellow ochre (goethite, α-FeOOH) into red color (hematite, α-Fe2O3) depending on the temperature, in order to apply it and estimate the temperature at which the pyroclastic flow impacted the walls of Pompeii. To model the thermal impact that took place in the year 79 AD, nine wall painting fragments recovered in the archeological site of Pompeii and which include yellow ochre pigment were subjected to thermal ageing experiments (exposition to temperatures from 200 to 400 °C every 25 °C). Before the experiments, elemental information of the fragments was obtained by micro-energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence (μ-ED-XRF). The fragments were characterized before and after the exposition using Raman microscopy to monitor the transformation degree from yellow to red. The quantitative Raman imaging methodology was developed and validated using synthetic pellets of goethite and hematite standards. The results showed almost no transformation (0.5% ± 0.4) at 200 °C. However, at 225 °C, some color transformation (26.9% ± 2.8) was observed. The most remarkable color change was detected at temperatures between 250 °C (transformation of 46.7% ± 1.7) and 275 °C (transformation of 101.1% ± 1.2). At this last temperature, the transformation is totally completed since from 275 to 400 °C the transformation percentage remained constant.

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The authors would like to thank the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, Expeditio Pompeiana Universitatis Helsingiensis (EPUH), and Naples National Archaeological Museum (MANN) for putting at our disposal the fragments under study.


This work has been funded by the Spanish Agency for Research AEI (MINECO-FEDER/UE) through the project MADyLIN (BIA2017-87063-P). Iker Marcaida received funding from Basque Government for his predoctoral fellowship. The research leading to these results has also received funding from “la Caixa” Foundation (Silvia Pérez-Diez, ID100010434, Fellowship code LCF/BQ/ES18/11670017).

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Correspondence to Iker Marcaida.

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Marcaida, I., Maguregui, M., Morillas, H. et al. Raman imaging to quantify the thermal transformation degree of Pompeian yellow ochre caused by the 79 AD Mount Vesuvius eruption. Anal Bioanal Chem 411, 7585–7593 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00216-019-02175-5

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  • Yellow ochre
  • Dehydration
  • Raman imaging
  • Color transformation
  • Quantitative analysis