Looking for the source of blue pigment


In a Washington University in St Louis article Diana Lutz describes how Dr Jennifer Smith has been out in the Dakhleh Oasis (Western Desert) searching for the an uncontaminated sample of the cobalt-bearing mineral that was used to colour the blue pigment used in high quality blue-painted pottery. The pottery is particularly well known from the New Kingdom sites Malqata, Amarna and Deir el Medineh.  Although Smith’s area of expertise is the analysis of climate change on patterns of human occupation, working with the Dakhleh Oasis Project, she was asked to lend a hand on the puzzle of the blue paint by pottery expert Colin Hope who also works for the DOP.

Smith extracted samples from allum mines in Dakhleh, which consist of shafts leading down to galleries where the allum, used for a variety of purposes cold be extracted from veins.   One of the elements was cobalt.  Unfortunately the samples extracted showed low levels of cobalt, although they did contain other elements that were used in the paint.  Smith hypothesises that the cobalt was concentrated on site, but is quite open that her ideas remain speculative at this stage.

There’s a nice photograph of one of the mine shafts and one of the narrow galleries on the above page.

The photograph above is one I took today at the Ashmolean Museum.   It was excavated at Amarna.


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