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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The nature of marbled Terra Sigillata slips: a combined μXRF and μXRD investigation


In addition to the red terra sigillata production, the largest Gallic workshop (La Graufesenque) made a special type of terra sigillata, called “marbled” by the archaeologists. Produced exclusively at this site, this pottery is characterized by a surface finish made of a mixture of yellow and red slips. Because the two slips are intimately mixed, it is difficult to obtain the precise composition of one of the two constituents without contamination from the other. In order to obtain very precise correlation at the appropriate scale between the color aspect and the elemental and mineralogical phase distributions in the slip, combined electron microprobe, X-ray micro spectroscopies and micro diffraction on cross-sectional samples were performed. The aim of this study is to discover how potters were able to produce this unique type of terra sigillata and especially this particular slip of an intense yellow color. Results show that the yellow component of marbled sigillata was made from a titanium-rich clay preparation. The color is due to the formation of a pseudobrookite (TiFe2O5) phase in the yellow part of the slip, the main characteristics of that structure being considered nowadays as essential for the fabrication of stable yellow ceramic pigments. Its physical properties such as high refractive indices and a melting point higher than that of most silicates widely used as ceramic colorants are indeed determinant for this kind of application. Finally, the red parts have a similar composition (elementary and mineralogical) to the one of standard red slip.

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