On the Making and Provenancing of Pigments from the Early Dynastic Royal Tombs of Ur, Mesopotamia


  • Andreas Hauptmann Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum, Research Laboratory for Archaeology and Materials Science, Hernerstraße 45, 44787 Bochum
  • Sabine Klein Goethe-University Frankfurt, Institute for Geosciences Altenhöferallee 1, 60054 Frankfurt a. Main
  • Richard Zettler University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 33 rd and Spruce Streets, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6324 (USA)
  • Ursula Baumer Doerner Institut, Barerstraße 29, 80799 Munich
  • Patrick Dietemann Doerner Institut, Barerstraße 29, 80799 Munich




Cosmetic pigments, copper, manganese, lead, hydroxyapatite, bones, verdigris, lead isotopes


A total of 50 cosmetic pigments from the Royal Cemetery of the Sumerian city of Ur, Mesopotamia, now in the collections of the Penn  Museum, Philadelphia, were investigated for their mineralogical, inorganic, organic and lead isotope composition. The aim of this study was to investigate the making of the pigments and to search for the origin of the material used. Main components of the green pigments were green secondary copper minerals mixed with white hydroxyapatite from bones. Copper acetates and formic acids were detected and the formation of verdigris is discussed. Black pigments mostly consist of black manganese minerals. White pigments were made of oxidized white lead minerals, while in red pigments hematite was detected. Vegetable oil or animal fats were detected in a majority of the pigment samples analyzed, and it appears that the pigments were smoothly smeared into the (shell) containers as a  paste, but the modern conservation of the pigments and decomposition of the organics hinders a clear identification of the original  organic components. Chemical and lead isotope analyses point to a provenance of the coloring minerals from ore deposits in Oman,  on the Iranian Plateau and in southeast Anatolia.