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Iron isotope analysis of red and black pigments on pottery in Nasca, Peru


The Nasca culture of the south coast of Peru developed during the first millennium ad and is known internationally for its elaborately decorated polychrome pots. Despite decades of iconographic analysis, little is known about the more technological aspects of Nasca pigment production and application. We present results from a pilot study on iron isotopes as a potential line of inquiry into the differences between red and black pigments in Nasca pigments. As well, we conduct a small firing experiment to examine potential changes in isotope composition. Our analyses show three significant results. First, firing does not change the isotopic ratios of Fe in pigments. Second, red and black pigments show differences in their iron isotope composition, which relate to differences in the minerals used to make the different colors. Third, naturally available hematite samples show greater isotopic variation than pigment samples, suggesting that people selected a limited range of iron oxides to produce pigments. © 2013 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.

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