Scientists have determined that the ancient Peruvian culture used chameleon urine in order to make white paint for their pottery over 2,000 years ago. The urine from chameleons created white pigment for their paint.
The type pottery that has never been previously found anywhere else was discovered during the excavation of Paracas cemeteries. The recovered relics are believed to have been passed on from generation to generation as a family heirloom because the pieces were considered very important to their culture.
The Paracas culture was from the Late Formative Period – from around 900 to 100 BC – on the south coast of Peru and they were known for their beautifully colored ceramics. Their name “Paracas” comes from the Quechua word “para-ako” which translates to “sand falling like rain.” They were apparently quite knowledgeable in irrigation and water management, as well as being known for their impressive textile arts.
The Paracas Necropolis was discovered in 1927 by a Peruvian archaeologist named Julio Tello. Upon excavation, the mummies were found in a seated position and were buried with weapons and/or baskets. They were also wrapped up in a cone-shaped assortment of cloths as well as embroidered clothing. While the majority of the mummies recovered were males, additional research needs to be done on females and youths to better understand them. Researchers also plan to conduct more examinations in order to find out what consisted in the culture’s diet.
The culture’s magnificent looking ceramics tell an interesting story on how they communicated in ancient times long before computers, internet, and cell phones. Dawn Kriss, who is from the Brooklyn Museum and the first author from a study on the ancient ceramics, wrote, “In the absence of writing, ceramic and textile traditions represented the principal form of cultural communication across long distances and multiple generations.” She went on to explain, “Areas of white pigment on the sherds also contains large amounts of uric acid. In these paints, analysis detected spherical white particles of the same chemical composition as those reported for a white pigment used in African rock art – recognized as originating from snake urine.”
Researchers have also pointed out that the chameleon urine was mixed with an indigo-based blue colorant. After the Paracas people drew their designs onto the pottery, they would then apply the paint. It’s amazing how useful chameleon urine was to that culture and it’s a little baffling as to how they actually came up with the idea to use it for paint.