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K. Kris Hirst


By January 21, 2013

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The pigment vermillion is a vivid orange color, and it is derived from a highly toxic form of the mineral mercury called cinnabar. But that didn't stop our ancestors from using it to paint walls and figurines, beginning at least 9,000 years ago.

Red Lady Tomb at Palenque
The Red Queen Burial at the Maya site of Palenque was coated with cinnabar, accounting for the vermillion interior of the sarcophagus. Photo by Dennis Jarvis

The first evidence for the use of cinnabar comes from the ancient Neolithic community of Çatalhöyük in Turkey; but there have been many other circumstances all over the world where vermillion took an important symbolic role.


January 26, 2013 at 6:28 am
(1) Teresa Kemp says:

I want to thank you for your work and keeping us posted on so many different topics and projects currently going on. I usually do not take the time to leave a comment or note but I have been following your About.com e-mail for years. I have had cancer and congestive heart failure and I was able to continue learning, researching and traveling through your work!!

Thank you

Teresa Kemp

January 26, 2013 at 9:12 am
(2) Kris Hirst says:

Thanks, Teresa! That’s what I love about archaeology: you can write about almost anything in the world and get away with it!

Best wishes,


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