What Were the Most Common Pigment Sources in Ancient Times?

Color has been an important part of human life since ancient times. Humans have been using various materials to create pigments to color everything from cave walls to textiles. In this article, we will explore some of the most common pigment sources used in ancient times.


One of the most common sources of pigments in ancient times was minerals. Minerals like ochre, hematite, and malachite were popular sources of pigments for centuries.

Ochre, a yellowish-brown pigment made from clay and iron oxide, was used by prehistoric humans to paint cave walls and create art. Hematite, a red pigment made from iron oxide, was also popular among ancient civilizations. Malachite, a green pigment made from copper carbonate, was used in ancient Egypt to create vibrant green paints.


Plants were also a popular source of pigments in ancient times. Many plants contain natural dyes that can be extracted and used as pigments.

Indigo, a blue dye extracted from the leaves of the indigo plant, was used by civilizations like the ancient Greeks and Romans to dye textiles. Madder root, a plant that grows in Europe and Asia, was also used as a source for red and orange pigments.


Animal products were another source of pigments in ancient times. One example is Tyrian purple, which was made from the glands of sea snails found in the Eastern Mediterranean region. This highly prized purple dye was used by the royalty of Greece and Rome to color their robes.


Insects were also used as a source for pigments in some cultures. Cochineal insects found on cacti in Mexico were harvested for their bright red pigment called carmine. This dye was used by the Aztecs and Mayans to color textiles and body paint.


In conclusion, humans have been using various materials to create pigments for thousands of years. From minerals to plants, animals, and insects, the sources of pigments have varied widely across cultures and time periods.

The use of natural pigments declined with the advent of synthetic dyes in the 19th century. However, the use of natural pigments has gained popularity once again as people have become more interested in eco-friendly and sustainable products.