Just remembered what was bugging me about that original article … way back in 2004 (and I thought I had blogged this, but perhaps it was in Explorator), a Berlin-based researcher had claimed to have figured out the ‘formula’ for Pompeii red, which included a pile of cinnabar. Discovery News had the story … here’s an excerpt:

Aiming to discover the causes of the dramatically different chromatic effect resulting from the use of the same mineral pigment, Daniele analyzed the stratigraphies of some samples from Pompeian villas featuring the unique red and compared them to other ancient Roman wall paintings containing normal cinnabar paint layers.

Cinnabar is mercuric sulfide, the principal ore contained in mercury.

It emerged that in the case of Pompeian red, natural cinnabar was processed with particular care, which included what Daniele calls “purification, grinding and dimensional control.”

“The finer the grains are, the more brilliant and covering the color is. But there is much more. In my microscope observations, I detected a bimodal granulometry with 10-15 micron crystals acting as shiny particles in a matrix of finer grains,” Daniele said.

Basically, the ancient Romans simply added some bigger grains to the finely processed cinnabar powder, made of grains measuring about 2-3 microns. The result was a glittering surface that did not loose its saturated red tone.

According to Bernardo Marchese of Naples University Federico II’s materials engineering department, cinnabar red required careful processing indeed.

“The pigment was used in lime medium, and had to be liquid enough to be applied in paint layers on the wall surface … . The final result was subjected to wax polishing, in order to prevent alterations, especially when the color was applied on outside walls,” Marchese and colleagues wrote in the catalogue of the Pompeii exhibit “Homo Faber: Nature, Science and Technology in a Roman Town.”

Daniele’s analysis showed that, on the contrary, samples of normal cinnabar paint layers featured just a light processing of the pigment. Cinnabar powder made of larger grains measuring between 10 and 25 microns turned out to be more transparent and dull, producing a color similar to a red ochre, the researcher said.

Clearly this is beyond my training, but I was under the impression that cinnabar would give a red colour ….

Tourist Does An Indiana Jones Near Paestum

Fun item from Corriere del Mezzogiorno … a tourist is out hiking near Paestum, falls in a hole and discovers what eventually turned out to be three (Etruscan?) tombs:

Pare l’inizio di un romanzo: un turista passeggia in un’area archeologica e forse assorto nei suoi pensieri inciampa in una buca. Non una buca qualsiasi. Ma una che nasconde una tomba antica con pareti dipinte dal valore inestimabile. Nessun incipit letterario: è accaduto realmente a Paestum solo qualche giorno fa, quando un signore italiano, mentre camminava in un’area vicina ai famosi Templi, denominata località Spina Gaudo, è inciampato in una buca. L’uomo immediatamente è accorto di trovarsi di fronte ad una tomba antica. Cittadino modello, è andato a bussare alla porta della Compagnia della Guardia di Finanza sul lungomare San Marco ad Agropoli. Le Fiamme Gialle, coordinate dal capitano Salvatore Perrotta, recatesi sul posto hanno accertato l’effettiva presenza dello scavo e hanno allertato la Soprintendenza dei Beni Archeologici di Salerno. Sono partite così le operazioni di recupero.

via: Paestum, Indiana Jones per caso: turista inciampa e scopre tomba antica – Corriere del Mezzogiorno.

There’s a tiny photo with the original coverage … looks Etruscan … The article does continue a bit, and I should note that it dates from the end of July.

Pompeii Red Was Actually Yellow?

Martin Conde alerts us to an item in today’s Corriere della Sera (which hasn’t made it to the online version yet) in which it is suggested that gases from the eruption of Vesuvius altered the original ‘yellow’ to produce the famous ‘pompeiian red’ we associate with, inter alia, the Villa of the Mysteries. MC has put up a pdf of the article at his website … alternatively, you can see it in his flickr stream. We’ll see if this gets any coverage in the English part of the world … seems to be a pretty major discovery, if true. (I need more details; there is yellow in plenty of frescoes with ‘pompeii red’ … why didn’t it change?)

A Different Sort of Tombaroli Case?

Perhaps my spiders (see next post) were just confused by this one, as I was last night … from Standart:

A pot with gold jewelry dating back  from the Thracian period was donated to a museum instead of being smuggled by black archeologist’s mafia. A day ago the police found in the house of 41-years old R.T. from the town of Svishtov valuable finds cached in one of the rooms. The police determined that the jobless man found a ceramic pot containing a gold spiral bracelet, 6 pieces of gold jewelry, 6 gold earrings and bronze tools, including axes and other blades. The police didn’t press charges as the man decided to donate the treasure to a local museum.
The treasure turned out to be very valuable. The finds date back to the Bronze Age or 4,000 years ago, archaeologist Ivan Tsarov said. Currently experts cannot estimate the real value of the treasure but most probably its price will exceed hundreds of thousands euro. The objects will remain in the Svishtov Museum of History.

I’ve never read/heard of the (somewhat offensive, in context) term “black archaeologist” or the related “black archaeologist mafia” before … it seems likely a literal translation of something akin to tombarolo, or is there more to it?