Emigdiano Blues: The California Indigenous Pigment Palette and an In Situ Analysis of an Exotic Colour

Bedford, Clare orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-6897-3293, Robinson, David Wayne orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-0729-5011 and Gandy, Devlin (2018) Emigdiano Blues: The California Indigenous Pigment Palette and an In Situ Analysis of an Exotic Colour. Open Archaeology, 4 (1). pp. 152-172.

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1515/opar-2018-0010


The Native inhabitants of South Central California produced rock art containing red, orange, black, white, green and blue colours using a range of mineral and organic materials. Many of these same colours were used on material culture and body painting. This paper focuses on a sub-group of the Chumash, called the Emigdiano, who produced an enigmatic blue colour used in the creation of rock art. Here, we focus on the blue pigment at the rock shelter site of Three Springs in the Wind Wolves Preserve in South Central California. The composition of blue pigments has previously been the focus of discussion with suggestions that they were produced either using European pigments taken from Spanish missions, or that azurite from a local quarry was the source. Previous experimental work had demonstrated that it was possible for the blue to be produced from locally available azurite. Here we present the in situ analyses of these enigmatic blue pigments using handheld X-ray Fluorescence (pXRF). Results from pXRF analysis of rock art, quarried azurite samples and experimental rock art reconstructions showed that the Emigdiano Blue at Three Springs were not azurite based and was composed of optical blue (a mixture of black and white or grey materials which mimic the appearance of blue). This paper discusses the surprising implications of the use, given the availability of a ‘true’ blue pigment, and the wider ontological importance of combining multiple colours to produce the effect of blue in a rock art panel.

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