A 5,000 year old ceremonial building in Orkney (Scotland) has revealed a unique treasure. Two stone slabs bearing red, yellow and orange pigment are the first evidence of painted walls ever found in the UK. "To find coloured Neolithic paint - 5,000-year-old Dulux - is something we never expected to see", said Nick Card, from the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology. The discovery was made by 22-year old Dutch archaeologist Anniek Manshanden, who was clearly thrilled. She said: "To have found evidence of the first Neolithic painted building is awesome."
The paint will be subjected to laboratory analysis to determine its composition. It is probably based upon hematite or limonite, two iron ores found in the region. These would have been finely ground and mixed with animal fat, milk or eggs to create pigments.
Since this is the first finding of its kind, it is not known if walls were commonly painted or if this was reserved for ceremonial structures such as the 'cathedral' at Ness of Brodgar where the discovery was made. There is speculation that decorative markings carved into the sandstone of the interior walls may also have been enhanced with color.
Sources: The Ness of Brodgar Excavations, BBC News (26 July 2010), The Scotsman (28 July 2010)