Even thousands of years ago, people wore clothes with colorful patterns made of plant and animal colors. Chemists at the University of Martin Luther Halle-Vittenberg (MLU) have created new analytical methods for testing textiles from China and Peru, some thousands of years old. In the scientific journal Scientific Reports they describe their new method that is capable of reconstructing the spatial distribution of colors, and thus the samples, in textile patterns.
Chemists dr. Annemarie Kramell and Professor Rene Csuk of MLU examined two samples of ancient textiles. One comes from the ancient Chinese city of Niia and was probably part of the shirt. It's over 2,000 years old. The second sample comes from Peru and dates from 1100 to 1400. They were made by Ichma people who then lived in Peru. Today, there is often little evidence of the color of such ancient clothes. "Time did not treat them well. What was once colorful, now it's mostly dirty, gray and brown," says Rene Csuk. Over time, natural colors have decomposed as a result of the action of light, air and water, explains the chemist. In the past, only natural colors were used. "The roots of plants called Rubia, for example, were used to create red colors, and minced walnut shells produced brown tones," says Annemarie Kramell. Even then, people mixed individual materials to create different shades.
The researchers have developed a new analytical method that enables them to find out which materials are used for color. With the help of modern mass spectrometry, they succeeded in showing compositions of colors of historical textile patterns as isotopic distributions. Earlier the colors had to be removed from the textile. However, the previous method also destroyed the pattern. This new approach allows MLM chemists to analyze colors directly from the surface of textile samples. In order to achieve this, the material being investigated is first embedded in another material. "The piece is in a matrix made up of a material called Technovit7100, only a few micrometers are made from this material, and they are then transferred to special slides," explains Csuk. Similar methods are used, for example, in medical research for the examination of human tissue. The advantage is that this method can be used to study very complex samples on a micrometer scale. "This allows us to distinguish between two interlaced threads that had originally different colors," says Tsuk.
As part of a new study, researchers have been able to detect indigo color in the samples. However, the method can be applied to many other classes of colors and gives insights into the textile production process in past cultures, according to two scientists.
The research was funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research within the project "Silk Road: Clothing as a means of communication in the 1st millennium BC, Eastern Central Asia." The Hans Knoll Institute in Jena and Dr. Gerd Hause from the MLU Biocenter were also involved in the project.
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