Red and black ink from Egyptian papyri unveil ancient writing practices

Red and black ink from Egyptian papyri unveil ancient writing practices
Detail of a medical treatise (inv. P. Carlsberg 930) from the Tebtunis temple library with headings marked in red ink. Image credit: The Papyrus Carlsberg Collection. Credit: The Papyrus Carlsberg Collection.

Scientists led by the ESRF, the European Synchrotron, Grenoble, France and the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, have discovered the composition of red and black inks in ancient Egyptian papyri from circa 100-200 AD, leading to a number of hypotheses about writing practices. The analysis, based on synchrotron techniques, shows that lead was probably used as a dryer rather than as a pigment, similar to its usage in 15th-century Europe during the development of oil painting. They have published their results in PNAS.


In ancient Egypt, Egyptians used black ink for writing the main body of text, while red ink was often used to highlight headings, instructions or keywords. During the last decade, many scientific studies have been conducted to elucidate the invention and history of ink in ancient Egypt and in the Mediterranean cultures, for instance ancient Greece and Rome.

The scientists used the powerful X-rays of the ESRF to study the red and black ink in papyri from the Tebtunis temple library, the only large-scale institutional library known to have survived from ancient Egypt. The samples studied in this research project are exceptional, not only because they derive from the famous Tebtunis temple library, but also because the analysis includes as many as 12 ancient Egyptian papyrus fragments, all inscribed with red and black inks.

“By applying 21st century, state-of-the-art technology to reveal the hidden secrets of ancient ink technology, we are contributing to the unveiling the origin of writing practices,” explains Marine Cotte, scientist at the ESRF and co-corresponding author of the paper.

Red and black ink from Egyptian papyri unveil ancient writing practices
A papyrus fragment from a long astrological treatise (inv. P. Carlsberg 89) from the Tebtunis temple library and the ESRF X-ray fluorescence maps showing the distribution of iron (red) and lead (blue) in the red letters that write out the ancient Egyptian word for “star”. Image credit: The Papyrus Carlsberg Collection and the ESRF. Credit: The Papyrus Carlsberg Collection and the ESRF.

“Something very striking was that we found that lead was added to the ink mixture, not as a dye, but as a dryer of the ink, so that the ink would stay on the papyrus,” says Cotte. The researchers came to this conclusion because they did not find any other type of lead, like lead white or minium, which should be present if lead was used as a pigment. “The fact that the lead was not added as a pigment but as a dryer infers that the ink had quite a complex recipe and could not be made by just anyone,” adds Thomas Christiansen, Egyptologist from the University of Copenhagen and co-corresponding author .

A surprising fact is that the ink recipe can be related to paint practices developed many centuries later during the Renaissance. “In the XV Century, when artists rediscovered the oil painting in Europe, the challenge was to

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The Key to Business Growth is as Simple as Looking at Your Employees Actions, New Study will Unveil Best Practices

New research study launched to probe people data, analytics, algorithms, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Boca Raton, FL, Oct. 20, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Brandon Hall Group, the preeminent independent human capital management research and advisory firm, launches its 2020 People Data, Analytics and Algorithms Survey to identify the most successful organizations’ methods, techniques and best practices.

Data science involves collecting, sorting and analyzing large and highly diverse data sets to identify and predict outcomes, activities and actions. People data science leverages data to predict human behaviors, outcomes and actions. It is critical for identifying internal and external influences that impact people’s behavior and reactions, ensuring only the best, most ethical and productive techniques are used.

“There is an increasing reliance on people data for decision-making, and the pace and rate of adoption continues to grow,” said Brandon Hall Group CEO Mike Cooke. “Human resources professionals, having accepted the inevitability of the people data revolution, must now lead their organizations further in this direction.”

“Part of being more analytically advanced involves how and why data is collected and used, which will be analyzed in this study,” said Cliff Stevenson, Principal Workforce Management Analyst at Brandon Hall Group.

Brandon Hall Group’s 2020 People Data, Analytics and Algorithms Study consists of a survey sent to its global database and scores of qualitative interviews with research participants, HCM Excellence Award winners and its members.

To learn more about this research study or to participate, click here

Those who participate will receive a summary of the results and the ability to connect with Brandon Hall Group’s analyst team to gain further understanding of the issues.

-About Brandon Hall Group-

Brandon Hall Group is the world’s only professional-development company that provides data, research, insights and certification to Learning and Talent professionals and organizations. The best companies in the world rely on Brandon Hall Group to help create future-proof employee-development plans for the new era of work and management.

For more than 27 years, BHG empowers, recognizes and certifies excellence in organizations throughout the world, driving the development of more than 10,000,000 employees and executives. Our annual HCM Excellence Awards program was the first to recognize and celebrate organizations for learning and talent, and as the industry’s gold standard is known as the “Academy Awards of Human Capital Management.”

Brandon Hall Group’s cloud-based platform delivers evidence-based insights in Learning and Development, Talent Management, Leadership Development, Diversity and Inclusion, Talent Acquisition and HR/Workforce Management for corporate organizations and HCM solution providers.

CONTACT: David Forry Brandon Hall Group 5613538082 [email protected]

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