The Origin of Colour Pigments in Roman Noricum

Geochemical investigations into the determination of origin of Roman colour pigments

This project focuses on the origin of archaeological colour pigments, in order to investigate knowledge transfer, cultural exchange as well as political and economic transformations on the basis of the pigments. Archaeometric research in the context of ancient colour pigments can reveal how goods and knowledge were ›traded‹ in earlier cultures, thereby gaining insights that are relevant not only for the study of cultural heritage but also for the understanding and interpretation of ancient economic dynamics, of technology and of art.

The content of the project is to investigate whether ancient colour pigments are able to indicate differing forms of exchange and socio-economic transitions: can the scientifically analysed information, archaeologically and historically contextualised, concerning the origin of raw materials and production processes of ancient colour pigments provide indications regarding preferred trade relations, technology and organisation of the production, as well as scientific transfer and cultural exchange? To this end, using a multidisciplinary approach the origin of the raw materials as well as the quality of ancient pigments (here in particular cinnabar red and Egyptian blue pigments) will be analysed. The trace elements and isotope composition of the pigments will enable conclusions regarding the raw materials employed, and their origin.

Noricum was a region with rich resources of raw materials, and therefore the possibility to produce pigments locally. After becoming a Roman province it experienced great changes. The material analysis of the cinnabar red (vermilion) and Egyptian blue pigments from the Roman imperial period and Late Antiquity, in this context the cultural, political and economic transformations in Noricum will be considered.

Investigative methods

  • Analysis of elements with XRF
  • Mineralogical composition employing SEM-EDS, Raman and XRD
  • Analysis of trace elements with ICP-MS
  • Isotope analysis with MC-ICP-MS and TIMS


  • Which colours were used in the Roman province of Noricum?
  • Where did the raw materials come from, and how were these processed; were there changes in the origin and/or processing technology during the Roman period and in the various Roman sites in Noricum?
  • Can such changes provide evidence of organisational structures, technology transfer and cultural exchange?


This project is sponsored by the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme of the European Union under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Financing Agreement No. 845075.