Colour cultures: natural dyes, a global intangible heritage with a future

D. Cardon
Discovering sources of colorants in different natural environments and managing to fix them onto diverse substrates implied as much research and experiments among early humans, as did the selection and processing of food and medicinal plants. However, since organic colorants applied to organic substrates such as skin, hair and textile fibres can only be preserved in a narrow range of environmental conditions, the unfathomable antiquity of the art of dyeing is just beginning to be better understood. This is thanks to the huge progress made in archaeological research and archaeometry during the last hundred years. These advances highlight the importance that our ancestors gave to colour. Furthermore, studies of the colorants in archaeological textiles can inspire botanical, zoological and chemical research as well as technical experiments, all of which open prospects for new approaches and fruitful developments in the resurgent field of natural colorants. This paper first presents and discusses the dye sources and dyeing techniques that may explain the surprising results of some dye analyses of very early archaeological textiles. It then shows how written historical documents bring new light into the management of natural colorant resources which allowed dyeing with natural dyes to follow the pace of the development of big textile industries in Europe. In both parts, parallels are proposed with present developments in the production of natural colorants and in dyeing techniques.
Cardon, D. (2023). Colour cultures: natural dyes, a global intangible heritage with a future. Acta Hortic. 1361, 1-12
DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.2023.1361.1
bronze age dyes, experimental archaeology, textile industry, indigo, madder, sawwort, cochineal

Acta Horticulturae