Researchers Investigate Pompeii’s Fading Paint

Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried the Roman city of Pompeii on August 24, AD 79.

Wall paintings in Pompeii often contained a bright crimson pigment called cinnabar (mercury sulfide). Since the wall paintings were removed from their volcanic ash sealed tomb, the cinnabar has begun to turn black.

Research is ongoing to determine the causes for the degradation of cinnabar, and the results will help in the effort to preserve similar works of Roman art in museums and ruins.

Some factors believed to contribute to the darkening cinnabar are atmospheric contamination, exposure to sunlight and rain, and possibly from a preservative applied to the paintings by the original artists called “punic wax.”

For more details on this research, read the press release from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility.

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