Greece: Bronze Age Paint Workshop Discovered

According to a research team from the University of Salzburg, pottery shards, various tools and, above all, large amounts of crushed snail shells are clear evidence on the Greek island. own Color was produced – even in the late Bronze Age.

During excavations at the settlement mound Aegina Colonna, where the University of Salzburg has been conducting excavations and research for more than 50 years, students discovered the remains of two buildings, which were ultimately dated to the 16th century BC. Other finds at the site led researchers to conclude that the larger of the two buildings may have been a Bronze Age paint workshop.

Purple is thousands of years old

In the area surrounding the former workshop, the research team found, among other things, mortar and numerous ceramic fragments from vessels where paint had been heated and stored. Since large quantities of crushed snail shells were also found there, it is reasonable to assume that all were spun in the same color in the Bronze Age workshop: Purple.

“If you find crushed snail shells, that’s an indication that the deep purple color was produced here, because the color is produced from the glandular secretion of some sea snails,” the archaeologist explains. Lydia Berger Science from the University of Salzburg.ORF.at. He has been significantly involved in the ongoing excavations at Aegina and has now published new findings on the Color Workshop with Austrian colleagues. Special Journal “PLOS ONE”.

Hard manual work

The snail shells found in the workshop come from A blunt spiny snail, one of the three purple snail species considered for the production of high-quality dye. The species found in Aegina occur in the sea surrounding the island and may have been collected locally for paint production.

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Excavations at Aegina Colonna, University of Paris Lodron University of Salzburg, Department of Classical Studies

A blunt spiny snail shell found in the workshop area

In the Bronze Age, people had many options for obtaining the pigmented glandular secretions of snails, but even these required a certain amount of knowledge. “For example, you can carefully pull the gland out of the snail, or you can crush the animal whole and then extract the pigment,” explains Berger. In the workshop on Aegina, the latter seems to have been mainly practiced, as evidenced by mortar and crushed snail shells found.

A highly connected population

Through targeted heating and precise regulation of oxygen supply, the glandular secretion finally turned dark purple, and then it was stored in ceramic pots. This is evidenced by the number of ceramic fragments at the site, which are still colored inside. By adding water, you can still paint with the remaining paint today. “This is a clear indication of the high quality of this color,” says Berger.

Purple pigments

Excavations at Aegina Colonna, University of Paris Lodron University of Salzburg, Department of Classical Studies

Purple pigments survive to this day and were produced in the early Bronze Age

According to the archaeologist, it is not entirely clear how the people of Aegina knew how to produce high quality purple paint. However, he believes the technology needed for this was not found on the relatively small island: “The inhabitants were seafarers and heavily involved in the Bronze Age trade network, so they did not live there in isolation.

Berger Berger suspects that the knowledge of paint production came at some point from the nearby island of Crete, where similar paint workshops have already been discovered in the past. “During the Bronze Age, Aegina had very strong connections with Minoan Crete and adopted a lot from there.”

Valuable product

Bronze Age purple was probably used to dye textiles and wall paintings. It is known from medieval writings that purple was reserved primarily for the upper social classes and representatives of the church. It is difficult to determine today whether it existed in the Bronze Age as well. However, Berger believes that purple clothing was more valuable than plain clothing 3,600 years ago.

With the discovery of Aegina, researchers hope to gain further insights into the Bronze Age lives of the island’s inhabitants. It is not yet clear how much paint was actually produced at the workshop, whether there were other locations on the island, and what economic importance paint production and the purple trade had for the people at the time.

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