Archaeology news: Ancient texts reveal writing techniques used by ancient Egyptians | Science | News

An international team of researchers have discovered the use of red and black inks were prevalent during the time of the ancient Egyptians. According to new research, Egyptians would have used black ink for the main body of the tests, while red inks were used for headings, instructions or keywords.

Researchers from the ESRF, the European Synchrotron, Grenoble, France and the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, used several x-ray techniques on papyrus dating back to 100-200 AD, to probe the chemical analysis of the documents.

They also found that lead was used as a dryer rather than as a pigment, a technique only developed by Europeans in the 15th century when it was used to dry oil paintings.

According to the research published in the journal PNAS, the 12 papryus were discovered at the Tebtunis temple library, the only large-scale institutional library known to have survived from ancient Egypt.

Marine Cotte, scientist at the ESRF and co-corresponding author of the paper, said: “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.

“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.

“In the XV Century, when artists rediscovered the oil painting in Europe, the challenge was to dry the oil in a reasonable amount of time.

“Painters realised that some lead compounds could be used as efficient dryers.”

Thomas Christiansen, Egyptologist from the University of Copenhagen and co-corresponding author, added: “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.”

Research into the composition of the inks found that the reds were made by ochre – an earthly pigment which is a mixture of ferric oxide and clay and sands.

According to a statement from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility: “More surprisingly, they discovered that this red pigment is present as coarse particles while the lead compounds are diffused into papyrus cells, at the micrometer scale, wrapping the cell walls, and creating, at the letter scale, a coffee-ring effect around the iron particles, as if the letters were outlined.

“In these halos, lead is associated with sulfur and phosphorus. The origin of these lead sulfates and phosphates, i.e. were they initially present in ink or did they form during ink alteration, remains an open question.

“If they were part of the original ink, understanding their role in the writing process is also puzzling and the motivation of on-going research.”

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