The first known use of vermillion
- Cite this article as:
- Martín-Gil, J., Martín-Gil, F.J., Delibes-de-Castro, G. et al. Experientia (1995) 51: 759. doi:10.1007/BF01922425
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Vermillion has been shown to be useful in preserving human bones from 5000 years ago. Remarkably well-preserved human bones have been found in the dolmenic burial ‘La Velilla’ in Osorno (Palencia, Spain), carefully covered by pulverized cinnabar (vermillion) which ensured their preservation even in non-favorable climatic conditions. We believe the red powder was deliberately deposited for preservative use because no cinnabar mine is to be found within 160 km, because of the large amount (hundreds of kilograms) used, and because its composition, red mercuric sulphide, is similar to that of preparations used in technical embalming. This finding pushes back the data of the use of mercury ore for preservation by four millennia in South America, and by at least one millennium in the Old World. Chemical and thermal analyses of vermillion in La Velilla have demonstrated its great purity and shown that the cinnabar was pulverized and washed (but not heated), producing a bright red-orange tone.