One thing that always strikes me when the long progression of wikipedia-clicks takes me from something like 'Tumulus' all the way to 'Mixtec writing' or, more specifically, 'Codex Zouche-Nuttall' is the divers array of colors through which the early Mesoamericans decorated and illustrated their documents. However, I have never before seen any reference anywhere to the ink they used. Thus, I pose unto ye the following:

From what did they extract their ink?

Did they crush and work lapis lazuli to get blue, as did the Afghans? Did they grow dye plants and extract therefrom their dyes? I am most fascinated by these documents, but the bulk of my fascination is dedicated not to the images themselves, but to that through which the images were created.

Thank you.


1 Answer 1


Most ink used was black (just like with everyone else's writing). According to archeologist Michael Coe, this was most likely derived from soot "scraped off the bottom of their cooking pots".

In the four surviving complete codices we have, they also used a lot of red, which appeared to be hematite(rust)-based. There supposedly aren't a lot of known good sources in the Mayan areas*, so nobody is sure exactly where they got it from.

There were also a few pages floating around using green and blue. The latter I find particularly intriguing, as the blue typically used in the west was expensive (to the point where many argue the concept of that color simply did not exist until recently), while the Codex piece I've seen with blue used it as a background color. Its a slightly different blue ("maya blue"), that is derived from a native plant mixed with a specific clay.

* - We know they had some small access to Iron, as they were also known to use it to make mirrors.

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