Mummy portrait | Photo: Courtesy Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology and the Regents of the University of California (catalog no. 6-21379)
Scientists accidentally found evidence of the existence of the so-called “Egyptian blue”, the first known artificial pigment. The discovery was made in a collection of paintings from Roman Egypt.
The paintings are mummy portraits that are kept at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology in the USA. They are dated to the 2nd century CE. The blue tint in the images is not visible to the naked eye. Grey and white colours predominate.
Using near-infrared technology and X-ray diffraction, scientists were able to detect a known pigment. “Egyptian blue” was produced around 3100 BCE. Interestingly, it was previously considered an expensive and rare colour. However, thanks to the discovery, scientists claim that in Roman times it could have been a popular and common pigment.