Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Gillian Carr. Woad, Tattooing and Identity in Later Iron Age and Early Roman Britain

2005. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 24 (3), 273-292.

(p. 273) "Summary. This paper explores the archaeological evidence for the practice
of facial and corporeal dyeing, painting and tattooing in the later Iron Age and
early Roman period. The aim is to construct a hypothesis which explains how,
why, when and by whom such pigments were worn. Although this hypothesis
discusses woad-derived indigo, this is used mainly, although not exclusively,
as an experimental tool, as no conclusive archaeological evidence exists which
reveals the identity of the ‘real’ pigment(s). Woad has also long held a place
in the popular imagination as the source of the dye which the ancient Britons
used to paint themselves.

"This paper explores the possibility that the cosmetic grinder was the
focal artefact used in body painting or tattooing, and was used for grinding
and mixing body and face paint. It is suggested that, rather than being a
‘Roman’-style tool for cosmetic application from the start, it may have begun
life as an artefact first used by the later Iron Age Britons for body painting and
expressing indigenous identities."

[end of summary]

(p. 276) Woad mixed with various media (beef drippings, egg white, egg yolk, water, saliva, semen) yields skin colors from grey, steel blue-grey, dark midnight blue, blue-black, dirty indigo-blue, indigo blue. [DW: these colors line up well with the semantic range of caeruleus]

(p. 278) "Other Classical authors referred to ‘woad-blue Britain’ (Ovid, Amores II, 16, 39), although the literal translation of Ovid’s viridesque Britannos is ‘green Britons’. This does not necessarily suggest a copper pigment, as woad dye can also often give a green colour (Plowright 1901–2). Pomponius Mela (de Chorographia III, 6, 51) also mentioned vitrum, calling it a dye."

(p. 279) "Pliny (Natural History XXII, ii) was the only author to suggest that a vegetable dye (glastum) was used by the Britons to stain the body (see Appendix). He remarked that this dye made the wearers resemble Ethiopians, which generated a minor debate over why the Romans imagined the Ethiopians were blue. However, woad can produce a black precipitate if left for too long, and can, therefore, turn skin black with over-exposure to the woad vat (Plowright 1901–2). Plowright also remarked that the woad gatherers’ hands were often black after harvesting the plant. It is likely, however, that Pliny, in discussing glastum, was merely describing a different dye-plant altogether."

(p. 288-9) List of ancient authors who mention body dying or tattooing:

Caesar, De Bello Gallico V, xiv
Ovid, Amores II, 16, 39
Propertius, Elegies II, xviiiD,1-4
Pomponius Mela, de Chorgraphia III, 6, 51
Martial, Epigrams XI, LIII
Tacitus, Agricola 29
Pliny, Naturalis Historia XXII, ii
Solinus, Collectanea Rerum Memorabilium 22, 12
Herodian III, xiv, 7
Claudian II, Poem on Stilicho’s Consulship II.247
Claudian II, De Bello Gothico, 416–18


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