How did the Cochimi make their colours for painting?
Home Depot? Lowes?
Adding colour to your environment can help to personalize the items around you. This can be the items of clothing you have, containers for personal things, or even your own skin, and, it can also be the walls of the place you live in. . . You paint your walls and have pictures on the walls of your house also don’t you? Dyes are made from vegetable matter rendered down, mixed with various adjuncts and generally used to soak into a material to change the visual effect of the item in a permanent or semi-permanent manner. Painting is the covering application of coloured pigments to the surface of a structure or item. In Rock Art terms then, it is Paint that best describes the medium.
With the Cochimi, the dominant color used in the paintings, no matter their age or subject matter, is red. Why so? There may be obvious factors such as tradition and availability of the materials to make that colour. Another factor might be that over time the artists may have found that red was more durable. Other factors may be more spiritual or artistic in nature. The life force of all humans and most animals is carried in their blood. . . red. Life, lost when you loose your red, red blood. New life is born in the presence of shed blood also. The beginning and the end. . . The beginning and the end of each day in Baja is heralded by a brilliant red sky.. . Hmm? Are we humans then hard-wired to react to red more so than any other colour?
Anthropologists claim that people who (still) live at a very elemental social level reveal that among the first colors to be distinguished or described are black, white, and red.
On superficial analysis then, Black is the amalgamation of all colours, White is the absence of all colours and Red the life force as noted above. It makes sense then that these colours, more than any other are used in the Rock Art of the area.
Other colours that occur are blue, green, yellow and maybe brown although brown may be the result of a degraded red colour or addition of Manganese Dioxide.
The Cochimi Painters used the minerals and rocks that were available in their geographic vicinity to extract the pigments from which to make paint. However, some pigments may have been traded with other distant natives in order to acquire a special colour not locally available.
Red, Red Ochre, Yellow Ochre and Umber
Made from the minerals limonite and hematite (Iron ore) Not considered toxic
May also contain quantities of Manganese Dioxide which some sources say is toxic.
Sometimes this mineral could have been mixed with clay to make a smoother colour. Colored earth or rock is mined, ground and washed, leaving a mixture of minerals – essentially rust-stained clay. Ochre can be used raw (yellowish), or roasted in a fire for a deeper (brown-red) color from loss of water of hydration. Produces a quick-drying paint.
The Painters would have discovered over time that, unlike the coloured dyes they were using and which were derived from animal and vegetable sources, the color that came from iron oxide deposits in the earth would not fade with the changing environment. For this reason, it is believed that men traveled far and wide to maintain a steady supply of earth pigments. In every locality where prehistoric sites have been discovered the world over, there are historic trails leading to near and distant hematite deposits where man mined.
When limonite is heated, it converts to the reddish hematite and becomes Red Ochre. Ochre was suspected as being the first colour pigment to be used by prehistoric humans, dated at up to 300,000 years ago at the Twin Rivers site in Zambia.
There is another source of a very vivid red colour (known today as Vermillion Red) that can be obtained from mining and crushing rock containing bright red Cinnabar. Cinnabar contains Mercury Sulphide. This mineral is available in surface deposits in Baja and also in California. This is toxic material known as one of the causes of Mercury Poisoning. Historians believe that using this source for the colour red was the cause of diseased remains that have been found at many Native American burial sites. Imagine, if you will, a paste of this compound sprayed from your mouth to make a handprint! Hmm.
Manganese was commercially mined at the northeast coast of the Conception Bay peninsula. Some of the art in the area shows a dark red almost brown colouring that is more than likely attributable to the Manganese Dioxide content of the red paint. The ore from the Boleo mine at Santa Rosalia also contains forms of Manganese.
The colour Yellow is said to not have been used for ancient rock art as it was thought not to be available till after the Spanish arrived in Baja. It has been shown however, that yellow pigments can be formulated from the same sources as the colour red and consequently deserve to be considered as being as ancient as those colours in the red spectrum.
Black, Charcoal Black, Bone Black
Made from Charcoal from the fire or burnt bones. Non-toxic
Can also be derived from the crystals of various oxides of Manganese such as Goutite, Hausmanite and Maganite
The Black colour is easily obtained from burning wood or other vegetable fiber such as cactus roots, Yucca, Agave etc in a covered pit with reduced combustion air to produce charcoal. If large items were burned, they could subsequently be crushed or ground up to form a powder then mixed with a binder to form paint. If smaller finger sized roots were burned, they could be used, as is, as crayons. (Remember your early school days?) Burning bones or ivory teeth as above produces a much darker, harder, and more intense black than that of charcoal.
Some cave paintings in the Mulege area are seen to be outlined; some in White and some in Black.
Some of the cave art in France (at Chauvet and Lascaux) uses Black colours based on Manganese oxides and are very deep black. Normally I would not attribute the Black colours used in the Mulege area to these oxides (carbon and bone black being easier to produce) but because of the relative abundance of the minerals close-by I suspect there may be some use by the Cochimi here. It would be interesting to follow-up on this with a tested sample. Hmm?
White, Lime White, Chalk White.
Made from Calcite, Calcium Carbonate (Chalk) or limestone, Shells Non- toxic.
Areas where natural chalk outcroppings are found are fairly abundant in Baha underneath the volcanic layer. This can be harvested/mined and crushed to make a White paste. In tidal areas, Calcite clays can be found (near the hot pools at Santispac beach) that can be collected and heated to drive off moisture. The resulting cake can be stored and ground to form a thinner paste with water or other binder added. Eggshells and seashells can also be burned, crushed and used to make White pigment. Limestone can also be burned and the resulting powder mixed with a binder and used.
Made from Copper oxides, plant leaves
Malachite is a mineral; basically copper carbonate, moderately permanent pigment of varying colour. Malachite is perhaps the oldest known Green pigment. It is sensitive to acids and to heat.
Malachite is toxic in that it can cause stomach disorders vomiting, liver and blood disorders if ingested in high quantities. (MSDS data sheet)
Green dye was produced from moss or algae, tree leaves, (possibly cactus and Agave too) flowers or Juniper berries, basically anything that contains chlorophyl and can be added to white clays to form a paint.
The area around the Three Virgins mountains contains significant sources of copper ores and oxides.
Azurite is a mineral; See above for toxicity
Azurite, like Malachite above is a carbonate of copper, found in the area around Santa Rosalia and the Three Virgins in the upper oxidized portions of copper ore deposits. Azurite is not as common as Malachite. Blue pigment made from Azurite is quite bright. (See the rock art at Pinguica and Montevideo)
Blue can also be made from blue clay if it can be found in the area. Duck or bird poop can be sourced as a colourant and will be dependent on the fowls diet.
There is a shrub, Indigofera, locally called Rama Prieta, whose seeds contain a Blue dye that is quite intense when extracted. This shrub can be found in the southern mountain regions of Cochimi territory.
The colour Blue is thought to be a colour that was not used until the Mesolithic period (10,000 years BP and later) However due to the proximity of copper ores and the Rama Prieta shrub in the Cochimi area the colour may have been in use locally for longer than that.
Making of “Earth” Paints
Here is how to do it. . .
Find and collect the variety of coloured rocks or/ and soils for the target colour making sure no organic matter is included. Larger clumps of dry soil or soft rocks are then crushed with a metate and mano to a fine consistency. Another way is to soak clay-like rocks in water and then work them into a mud with a tool like a mortar and pestle. Other materials like crushed leaves and vegetable juices are incorporated now. The mud can be spread out on a smooth rock or leather skin to dry in the sun. The dried out mud is then broken up and is ready to transport. Transportation can be in small gourds or sacks made from animal skins.
Historians hypothesize that paint was applied with brushing, smearing, dabbing, and spraying techniques. Large areas were covered with fingertips or pads of lichen or moss. Twigs produced drawn or linear marks, while feathers blended areas of color. Brushes made from animal hair were used for paint application and outlining. Paint spraying, accomplished by blowing paint through hollow bones and reeds, yielded a finely grained distribution of pigment, similar to an airbrush. Paint can also be taken into the mouth then sprayed directly out onto the surface. Stenciling techniques can also be found. A typical example of this is the handprint painted in the negative by spraying paint against one’s hand while it is held against the rock surface. Using tools to create a repetitive design is also evident in this geographic area. An example is the perfect white circular spots on the “Whale Shark” in the Santa Barbara arroyo or the upside down white deer at La Trinidad.
At the painting site, mix the pigment powder with the desired binder and apply. The binder acts as an adhesive that locks the pigment powder in and attaches the colours to the rock surface – plus the binder can also serve to protect the paint from the elements and also enhance the colours somewhat.
Some of the binders used can be:
Oils from fish or animals rendered down
Blood, human or animal
egg yolk or white
Fat from bones or hides.
Juice from Yucca or Agave
All of which are/were available to the Cochimi.
Reflection on Colour
Colour then, is the most basic form of human artistic expression after shape, and the pigments described above are the simplest forms of color. In practical terms, they are all reflections of light, actual or spiritual. Since these Painters are long gone from this world, we may never know the true spiritual significance of the colors in their rock art. But hey, we can see how deeply color affects our own mood, our self-esteem, and our sense of beauty; and how it touches our inner being. So why would the Cochimi be any different?
An Experiment in Rock Art Painting
At the SHUMLA School in Comstock, Texas, archaeologist who were studying the 4000-year-old rock art in Seminole Canyon State Park did some experiments to try and replicate the paints used in the rock art. They found sources for the colors used in mineral deposits near the park, and obtained the pigments from there. The pigments were ground to a fine powder using stone tools such as a mano and metate, or a molcajete (mortar and pestle).
The next important ingredient in producing paint is the “binder”. A binder is the liquid in paints that holds particles of pigment together and fastens them to the support (in this case the support is the shelter wall). Chemistry professor, Dr. Marvin Rowe, and his students at Texas A&M, determined that the binder used in the paint was of an organic nature, however; they still did not know what kind of organic binder was used. In an attempt to answer this question, artist and archeologist Dr. Carolyn Boyd began the process of trying to rediscover the binder used 4000 years ago through experimental archeology.
Native Americans are reported to have used a variety of substances as binders in making paint, including blood, egg whites, sap from plants, animal fat and even urine. As an artist well experienced in mural painting both indoors and outdoors, Boyd knew that the binder required to produce fluid continuous lines in an arid environment needed to be a slow drying substance. This eliminated such possible binders as blood, urine and egg whites. The binder also should be close to colorless when used to make such colors as yellows and whites, which again rules out blood. Quanity was also a consideration. The amount of binder required to produce some of the pictographs would be sizeable. Given these considerations, she determined that animal fat seemed the most likely source. In considering the fauna available 4000 years ago, Deer would have been an excellent source of fat. Dr. Boyd communicated with Dr. Jerry Cook, a wildlife ecologist at Texas A&M, and was informed that the highest source of fat on a deer is contained within the bone marrow, especially in the long bones. She noted that the quantity and color of the marrow varied according to age, season, and health of the deer. The finely ground mineral pigments and the deer bone marrow blended easily, however, the consistency was too thick to be used for painting. A “thinner” was required to achieve the necessary fluidity.
Water could not serve as the thinner due to its inability to mix with fat. Boyd needed a third ingredient that would act as an emulsifying agent to allow the water and the fat to be dispersed one into the other. She asked Dr. Phil Dering, a botonist and archeologist at Texas A&M, if there was a plant that could provide the needed emulsifier. He informed her that yucca, also known as soap plant, contains an ingredient known as saponin. Saponins are molecules that act like a detergent and are composed of a steroid attached to a sugar molecule. In aqueous solutions, saponins have an ability to foam, thereby acting as an emulsifier. In reviewing the ethnographic literature, she found that yucca was not only used by various Native American groups as a detergent, but as a binder in paint as well.
The roots of the yucca contain the most saponin. After removing the woody bark, Boyd pounded the roots enough to break them open and allowed them to soak in a small amount of water over night. The next day the roots were pounded into a pulpy mass and squeezed to render a soapy liquid.
The yucca juice, combined with the water added in the processing of the yucca, served as an excellent emulsifier-thinner. The liquid mixed well with the fat and pigment, creating a silky, fluid paint. The consistency of the paint could be adjusted with varying quantities of yucca juice. The proportions needed of each ingredient varied depending on which mineral pigment was used, the quality of fat, and the concentration of yucca juice.
The final product produced intense earth colors. The paint was highly fluid and as easy to work with as commercial oil paints. The deer bone marrow served as an excellent binder when used in combination with yucca juice as the emulsifier-thinner. Although we do not know for certain that this combination of ingredients was the formula used by the ancient artists, we do now know that the formula works and the resources to create the paint would have been readily available to the artists 4000 years ago in the lower Pecos River region of Texas.
. . . And maybe for the Cochimi also