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The Chemical Educator

ISSN: 1430-4171 (electronic version)

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Abstract Volume 10 Issue 4 (2005) pp 288-294

Rock Art Pigments and Paints: The Chemical and Geological Points of View

Jeanne M. Buccigross

Department of Chemistry and Physical Sciences, College of Mount St. Joseph, Cincinnati OH 45233-1670,
Received December 17, 2004. March 17, 2005.

Published online: 8 June 2005

Abstract. Some form of Rock Art has been practiced by nearly all cultures in the world. In rock painting and drawing, several mineral pigments were widely used, particularly hematite, goethite, lepidocrocite, limonite and pyrulosite. Charcoal from campfires is also a common black pigment. A variety of different minerals was used by different peoples to produce white. In this paper we discuss the chemistry and mineralogy of over a dozen common rock art pigments. The use of some of these pigments will be discussed in more detail with particular emphasis on the pigments and paints used by Australian Aboriginal peoples. Two student activities related to rock painting are provided to allow for the integration of this material into chemistry and the geology curricula.

Key Words: Laboratories and Demonstrations; geochemistry; inorganic chemistry; geology; mineralogy; rock art; natural pigments; mineral pigments; paints; multicultural chemistry; applied chemistry

(*) Corresponding author. (E-mail:

Article in PDF format (598 KB) HTML format

Supporting Materials:


Supporting Materials:

Instructions for making rock art paint and for preparing burnt ochre are available in a Zip file (5 KB).

Issue date: August 1, 2005

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