What is it about?

In mural paintings of the pre-Hispanic city of Teotihuacan, Mexico, the raw materials used to produce the diverse tonalities of red applied to the decoration of many buildings has been associated with hematite, iron oxides and, to a lesser extent, with cinnabar. The identification of these minerals was achieved through pXRF, Raman and SEM-EDS. The analyses not only confirmed the existence of cinnabar and hematite minerals in mural paintings, but also identified the presence of gypsum as part of the composition of the stuccos. The outcomes state an earlier technological development than formerly proposed for mural painting production in Teotihuacan.

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Why is it important?

Previous studies identified cinnabar in loose fragments of mural paintings from Xolalpan phase (350-550 A.D.). Nevertheless, it had never been detected directly on standing mural paintings of earlier periods, until now. This research exposes the detection of this valuable mineral, in addition to hematite and gypsum, in mural designs of early structures of the architectural complex of Quetzalpapalotl, by means of a non-destructive portable X-ray fluorescence technique, Raman and SEM-EDS. On the other hand, although gypsum has been found in grounds of the Mayan area, it has never been reported before for the stucco technology in Teotihuacan.


Cinnabar-based pigments had never been detected before over standing mural paintings. Finding cinnabar in specific elements proves its use since early stages in the city. Gypsum had not been reported before as part of the stucco composition in Teotihuacan.

Dr denisse lorenia argote-espino
Instituto nacional de antropologia

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This page is a summary of: Cinnabar, hematite and gypsum presence in mural paintings in Teotihuacan, Mexico, Journal of Archaeological Science Reports, August 2020, Elsevier, DOI: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2020.102375.
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