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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Red pigment and silver mining

As I get ready to head to San Diego at the weekend for the World Mummy Congress, I am reflecting on all the places our University of Illinois mummy has taken me.

One of the strangest: the world of pigment analysis. Our red stucco covering was analyzed twice, once by a lab at the U of I, and the second time by the Getty Conservation Institute. Both times, lead oxide was identified. This is interesting because you might expect an iron oxide for the color red. But red lead, or minium, was popular in antiquity, and that is what our pigment turns out to be. Even better, the Getty researchers linked the composition to that of nine other Roman period mummies from Egypt, and to the source: the silver mine of Rio Tinto in Spain.

Why is this so cool? Because it provides additional evidence that our little mummy, a child of perhaps mixed parentage who lived in Roman Egypt, came from a relatively well-to-do family. Not only did he or she have parent who could afford exotic ingredients like minium and gold leaf for the mummy wrappings, but the portrait was originally very detailed and probably gorgeous to look at. Take a look on our website, and check out the wonderful new book on Herakleides by Lorelei Corcoran and Marie Svoboda on the red shroud mummy group.

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