Characterization of Pigments Used in Ancient Egypt


X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and particle induced X-ray emission (PIXE), and X-ray diffraction (XRD) methods have been used extensively to study the chemical compositions and crystal structures of monuments, respectively, especially to characterize pigments used in ancient Egypt. Recent investigations of ancient Egyptian pigments by these methods are reviewed here. These investigations were performed by the author and his collaborators on several tens of fragments in the laboratory, and in the field on monuments exhibited in the Egyptian Museum and on tomb walls of Amenhotep III. Some fragments were excavated from ruins, and others were found within ancient tombs in Egypt. For field experiments, portable X-ray instruments were used: XRF, XRD, and energy dispersive X-ray diffraction and fluorescence. The latter two instruments were specially designed and produced for these investigations by the author and his collaborators. Experimental results obtained in the laboratory were very important in creating optimum experimental conditions in the field and were used very effectively for prompt analysis of observed data in the field.


pigment X-rays XRF XDR ED-XRDF Egypt Amenhotep III tomb wall huntite calcite anhydrite hematite goethite realgar orpiment Egyptian blue Amarna blue 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Barbieri M, Calderoni G, Cortesi C, Fornaseri M (1974) Huntite, A mineral used in antiquity. Archaeometry 16:211–220Google Scholar
  2. Faust GT (1953) Huntite, Mg3Ca(CO3)4, a new mineral. Amer. Mineralog. 38: 4–24Google Scholar
  3. Giessen BC, Gordon GE (1968) X-ray Diffraction: New High-speed Technique Based on X-ray Spectrography. Science 159: 973–975Google Scholar
  4. Goresy A El, Jaksch H, Razek MA, Weiner KL (1986) Ancient pigments in wall paintings of egyptian tombs and temples. Rep. M.P.I. H V 12: 1–45Google Scholar
  5. Goresy A El (1997) Polychromatic wall painting decorations in monuments of pharaonic Egypt: compositions, chronology, and painting techniques. 1st International Symposium on the Wall Paintings of Thera, August 30–September 4, Santorini, GreecGoogle Scholar
  6. Green LR (1955) “Recent Analysis of Pigments from Ancient Egyptian Artifacts”, In Conservation in Ancient Egyptian Collections, Brown CE, Macalister F, Wright MM. eds. Archetype Publication: 85–91Google Scholar
  7. Heywood A (1996) Color and panting in ancient Egypt. British Museum Colloqium, July: 11–12Google Scholar
  8. Jaksch H, Seipel W, Weiner KL, Goresy A El (1983) Egyptian blue-cuprorivaite, a window to ancient egyptian technology. Naturwiss. 70: 525–535CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Lucas A, Harris JR (1989) Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries, London: Histories & Mysteries of Man, LTD., 338–366Google Scholar
  10. Nagashima S, Kato M, Kotani T, Morito K, Miyazawa M, Kondo J, Yoshimura S, Sasa Y, Uda M (1996) Application of the external PIXE analysis to ancient Egyptian objects. Nucl. Instr. Meth. in Phys. Res. B 109/110: 658–661CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Noll W (1981) Zur Kenntnis altaegyptischen Pigmente und Bindemittel. N. Jb. Miner. Mh. H. 9: 416–432Google Scholar
  12. Riederer J (1974) Recently identified egyptian pigments. Archaeometry 16: 102–109Google Scholar
  13. Riederer J (1988) Pigmente in der Antike. Pd Naturwiss. Chem. 37: 3–10Google Scholar
  14. Saleh SA (1987) “Pigments, plaster and salt analyses” In Wall Paintings of the Tomb of Nefertari: Scientific Studies for Their Conservation: First Progress Report, July 1987, Conzo MA, ed. California: Cairo and Century, pp 94–105Google Scholar
  15. Sasa Y, Uda M (1995) Analysis of ancient egyptian pigments by external PIXE and XRD. J. Egyptian Studies, 3: 4–29Google Scholar
  16. Schiegl S, Weiner KL, Goresy A El (1989) Discovery of copper chloride cancer in ancient egyptian polychromatic wall paintings and faience: a developing archaeological disaster. Naturwiss. 76: 393–398CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Uda M, Tsunokami T, Murai R, Maeda K, Harigai I, Nakayama Y, Yoshimura S, Kikuchi T, Sakurai K, Sasa Y (1993) Quantitative analysis of ancient Egyptian pigments by external PIXE. Nucl. Instr. Meth. in Phys. Res. B 75: 476–479CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Uda M (1998) PIXE and archaeology. J. Egyptian Studies, 3: 37–54Google Scholar
  19. Uda M, Sassa S, Yoshioka Y, Taniguchi K, Nomura S, Yoshimura S, Kondo J, Nakamura M, Iskandar N, Zaghloul B (1999) X-ray analysis of pigments on ancient Egyptian monuments. Intern. J. PIXE 9: 441–451Google Scholar
  20. Uda M, Sassa S, Yoshioka Y, Taniguchi K, Nomura S, Yoshimura S, Kondo J, Nakamura M, Iskandar N, Zaghloul B (2000a) Touch-free in situ investigation of ancient Egyptian pigments. Naturwiss. 87: 260–263CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Uda M, Sassa S, Yoshioka Y, Taniguchi K, Nomura S, Yoshimura S, Kondo J, Nakamura M, Ban Y, Adachi H (2000b) Yellow, red and blue pigments from ancient Egyptian palace painted walls. Nucl. Instr. Meth. in Phys. Res. 161-163:758–761CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Uda M, Nakamura M, Yoshimura S. Kondo J, Saito M, Shirai Y, Hasegawa S, Oshio H, Yamashita D, Nakajima Y, Utaka T (2002) “Amarna blue” painted on ancient Egyptian pottery. Nucl. Instr. Meth. in Phys. Res. B 189: 382–386CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Weatherhead F (1995) “Two studies on amarna pigments”. In Amarna Reports VI. (EES Occasional Papers 10) Kemp BJ, ed. London: Egyptian Exploration Society, pp 384–398Google Scholar
  24. Yoshimura S, Uda M, Saito K (2002) A study of the use of calcite plaster for plastering walls in ancient Egypt. Arch. Natural Sci. 44:1–15Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. Uda
    • 1
  1. 1.Waseda UniversityTokyoJapan

Personalised recommendations