Colorful Indications of (Ex)Change



Collecting sand

Thanks to the sand collection of the Federal Monuments Authority Austria, particularly to Farkas Pintér and Karl Stingl, for samples of calcium-rich sands from #Noricum

Fieldwork @Teurnia

Late September to early October analyzing & sampling at the wall paintings collection of Teurnia #Noricum in Oberkärnten. Beautiful fragments & lots of work – thanks to Prof. F. Glaser for his great support!


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Through the lens of ancient polychromy, this research project will explore cultural and technological transformations in the Roman periphal province of Noricum

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 845075, and is based at the Austrian Archaeological Institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. This project is coordinated by Alexandra S. Rodler. It was inaugurated on 1st September 2020 and is due to be concluded on 31st August 2022.

Project summary

Like the present, the ancient world was fascinated by color too. People manipulated natural materials to use them as colorants early on and color has been an integral part of e.g. rituals, architecture, sculpture, textiles or other wear and use items. The use of color indicates advanced technical skills, complex comprehension and preference. The understanding of our colorful past is part of scholarly discussions and becoming accepted among a wider audience. This is supported by advances in analytical methods capable of characterizing traces of colorants from archaeological contexts. Recent scientific advances even aim at provenancing the raw materials used for ancient pigments. This is highly relevant, because it can elucidate not only the origin and exploitation of resources, connecting various places through trade, but potentially also production processes and the transfer of technological skills and know-how.

The advances in the scientific characterization of ancient pigments are a promising approach for elucidating provenance and production processes. This has great potential for indicating organization of production, cultural and technological exchange and transfer of knowledge.

With a focus on the provenance of resources for and production technology of red (Cinnabar) and blue pigments (Egyptian blue) – both pigments were spatially and temporally widely employed in the Roman world – we will investigate the economic and cultural dimensions, and relevance of color. Through a multi-analytical approach, we will thus test the potential of ancient pigments as subtle, but powerful indicators of trade, technological and cultural transfer and transmission. This project will inquire, whether it is possible to connect the origin of resources of pigments, the people that were sourcing/producing pigments and those who appreciated and used art to communicate prestige and power.

Research questions

  • Identification and characterization
    What colorants were used in Roman Noricum?
  • Provenance and production
    Where did raw materials come from?
    How were they processed?
  • Change and continuity
    How did trade, pigment production and the use of color change during the Roman expansion to Noricum?


  • Non-invasive analysis during field work followed by sample collection
  • Analysis of paint layer microstratigraphy and characterization of mineral phases
  • Trace element and isotope analysis for addressing raw material provenance



This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 845075.