The source, processing and use of red pigment based on hematite and cinnabar at Gramalote, an early Initial Period (1500-1200 cal. B.C.) maritime community, north coast of Peru

Gabriel Prieto, Véronique Wright, Richard L. Burger, Colin A. Cooke, Elvira L. Zeballos-Velasquez, Aldo Watanave, Matthew R. Suchomel, Leopoldo Suescun

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The evidence presented in this paper is a first effort to contextualize aspects related to the sourcing, production and uses of red paint during the second millennium BC in Northern Peru. The site tested was Gramalote, a fishing settlement of the Peruvian North Coast. The results show that the inhabitants of this settlement had access to a local source of hematite but they also used cinnabar that came from a distant region located in the Southern Highlands. Based on the abundance of lithic and bone tools, shell containers and ceramic seal stamps, the authors of this article study the process behind the production of this painting. Using physicochemical techniques such as Portable X-ray fluorescence (XRF) technology complemented with structural analysis through X-ray diffraction, applying conventional and synchrotron radiation on selected samples, the authors look at issues related to sourcing, production and uses of the red pigment. In addition, isotopic analysis helped to determine the provenience of cinnabar which is also the earliest evidence of human use of this mineral in the Andean region. Temporal and contextual distributions of these artifacts are analyzed to understand the manipulation and uses of the red paint. Finally, this study also gives a glimpse of the symbolic meaning red pigment could have played in the daily life of a second millennium BC maritime community on the Pacific coast of Peru.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-60
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The Gramalote Archeological Project was supported by the Albers Funds of the Department of Anthropology and the Doctoral Dissertation Fieldwork Grant of the MacMillan Center both at Yale University. This project was also made possible thanks to the Wenner–Gren Foundation (Dissertation Fieldwork Grant # 8427 ), the National Geographic Society/Waitt Grants Program (Grant # W188-11 ) and the Sigma Xi Research Grants (Grant # G20110315156259 ). The authors of this article would like to express their acknowledgments to Dr. Luis Jaime Castillo, director of the San Jose de Moro Laboratory at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru, who led us in working with the X-ray fluorescence equipment of his laboratory. Use of the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory was supported by the U. S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences , under Contract No. DE-AC02-06CH11357 . We wish to express our gratitude to Holger Hintelmann for his role in the isotopic analysis of Andean cinnabar. The authors of this paper would like to acknowledge Dr. Anne Underhill and Dr. Tom Fenn at the Department of Anthropology at Yale University for reading preliminary versions of this manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Ltd.


  • Andean maritime communities
  • Cinnabar
  • Hematite
  • Red pigment


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