Lead-based inks likely used as a drying agent on ancient Egyptian papyri
An international team of scientists used high-energy X-rays to analyze 12 fragments from ancient Egyptian papyri and found lead compounds in both red and black inks used. “Our analyses of the inks on the papyri fragments from the unique Tebtunis temple library revealed previously unknown compositions of red and black inks, particularly iron-based and lead-based compounds,” said co-author Thomas Christiansen, an Egyptologist from the University of Copenhagen.
It was genuinely used as a flesh tone by Egyptian painters between 30 BCE to 400 CE, according to the authors, but had not been identified in ancient Egyptian papyri until their study For this latest study, the team was interested in analyzing the mineral compounds of the red and black inks from the temple papyri fragments, especially the specific iron and lead compounds. “The iron-based compounds in the red inks are most likely ocher—a natural earth pigment—because the iron was found together with aluminium and the mineral hematite, which occur in ocher," said co-author Sine Larsen, also of the University of Copenhagen, of the results.