Analysis into Predynastic Ancient Egyptian Malachite Processing and the Production of Microfibres

Figure 1 – Malachite processing using stone hammer against a sandstone block

The 19th century description of ‘grinding malachite’ to reduce it to powder for pigment is completely erroneous, and effective processing requires smashing or crushing – most likely with a hammer stone against an substantial anvil stone as shown in Figure 1 and also in video demonstration here:

This percussive smashing and crushing produces small crystal shards which are extremely flyable. To contain these, the malachite would be wrapped in a material such as leather or linen. This material would most likely be scrap from clothing or other use, as it is destroyed during the crushing process. This destruction of the wrapping material imparts microfibres, with diameters ranging from 8μm to 23μm, into the resultant powdered malachite as can be seen in Figure 2.

Figure 2 – Powdered malachite viewed at 100x through a Dino-Lite AM4113T, with measurements taken in DinoXcope

The powdered malachite would be mixed with a base before use, such as a lipid base for use in ‘cosmetics’. The presence of the microfibres may help to reinforce the resulting pigment, thus helping to reduce shrinkage and cracking in a manner analogous to the reinforcement of  mudbricks with straw

This microfibre reinforcement may be a part of why green pigmentation appears to survive extremely well on the surface of palettes in the Predynastic era and also in the later Dynastic era (as can be seen in Figure 3).

Figure 3 – Decorrelation stretch vs ‘normal’ photograph of C. 1545 in the Museo Egizio

Steps to Create a Fish-Shaped Predynastic Ancient Egyptian Palette

This is an excerpt from my upcoming paper discussing the manufacture and use of Predynastic Ancient Egyptian palettes, highlighting the various steps which are required to create a fish-shaped (pisciform) palette. The replica was made from slate rather than siltstone/greywacke, as the material was easier for me to obtain. The steps are essentially the same but as slate is softer (Moh 3-4 vs Moh 6-7) it would take longer to create out of siltstone/greywacke and be potentially more abrasive to the tools.