An international team of researchers found that the use of red and black inks was widespread during the time of the ancient Egyptians. According to new research, the Egyptians used black ink for the main body of the tests, while red inks were used for titles, instructions or keywords.
Researchers from the ESRF, the European Synchrotron in Grenoble, France and the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, used several papyrus x-ray techniques dating from AD 100-200 to 200 to probe the chemical analysis of the documents.
They also discovered that lead was used as a drier rather than a pigment, a technique developed only by Europeans in the 15th century when it was used to dry oil paints.
According to research published in the journal PNAS, the 12 papriuses were discovered in the Tebtunis Temple Library, the only large-scale institutional library known to have survived from ancient Egypt.
Marine Cotte, ESRF scientist and co-author of the article, said: “By applying cutting edge 21st century technology to reveal the hidden secrets of ancient ink technology, we are helping to unravel the origin of writing practices.
“What is very striking is that we found that lead was added to the ink mixture, not as a colorant, but as an ink dryer, so that the ink remained on the papyrus.
“In the 15th century, when artists rediscovered oil painting in Europe, the challenge was to dry the oil within a reasonable time.
“Painters realized that certain lead compounds could be used as efficient dryers.”
Thomas Christiansen, Egyptologist at the University of Copenhagen and co-corresponding author, added: “The fact that lead was not added as a pigment but as a dryer implies that the ink had a fairly complex recipe. and couldn’t be made by just anyone. . “
Research into the composition of the inks revealed that the reds were made from ocher – an earthy pigment that is a mixture of ferric oxide, clay, and sand.
According to a statement from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility: “More surprisingly, they discovered that this red pigment is present as coarse particles while the lead compounds are diffused into the papyrus cells, on a micrometric scale, enveloping cell walls and creating, on the scale of the letters, a coffee ring effect around the iron particles, as if the letters were sketched.
“In these halos, lead is associated with sulfur and phosphorus. The origin of these lead sulfates and phosphates, i.e. were they initially present in the ink or were they formed during ink spoilage, remains an open question.
“If they were part of the original ink, understanding their role in the writing process is also confusing and the motivation for ongoing research.”