January 6, 2023
Researchers analyzed hundreds of human remains from the Chincha culture in Peru going back as far at 1000 CE in large mortuary structures to study the use of fingerprinting red pigment on skulls in funerary rituals. They found different kinds of red paint were used and only certain people were painted. Using X-ray powder diffraction, X-ray fluorescence spectrometry, and laser ablation ICP-MS, techniques, they found that 24 of the samples came from iron based ochres like hematite, 13 came from mercury based cinnabar, and one was a combination. Cinnabar came from hundreds of miles away and the hematite came from local sources.
Most of those whose skulls were painted were adult males. Bones of women and children who had healed traumatic injuries and those whose skulls were modified as babies were also painted. They used textiles, leaves and their hands to apply the pigment. It appears that the painters also entered the mortuaries to paint those who had been desecrated during the European conquest
The research is published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.
Live Science has the report and photos here: