Marvels of Materials: Authored by Doug Braun, Binghamton University

Egyptian blue

Egyptian blue is an artificially produced pigment, developed in the third millennium BCE, most likely in Egypt. The pigment is similar in structure to glass, and is made by heating together quartz-rich sand, an alkali like natron or potash, and bronze or copper to achieve its eponymous color. The pigment was then crushed, an agglomerative substance was added, and the pigment was thickly applied upon the surface of an object. Coloration of the pigment was dependent upon the levels of alkali in the mixture, as well as the grain size of the pigment, creating the dark color you see on the hair of this portrait head. The method for producing the pigment was not only known in Egypt, but across the ancient world, and it was the chief blue pigment of the ancient Mediterranean. Egyptian blue can be found on objects of all kinds, from the hair of this bust, to frescoes found in Bronze Age Greece. The pigment was also widely used across the Roman Empire, showing the broad impact of this material across space and time.

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