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Recent research suggests that ancient Mesopotamian stone sculptures, like their Greek counterparts, were painted.  While few traces of paint are visible to the naked eye today, some statues still bear the remains of black and red hues, the two primary colors used in the polychrome style of most Mesopotamian statues.  The researchers used ultraviolet visible spectroscopy to examine 178 statues and determined that 59 have definite traces of color.  In the third millennium BC, the skin was painted orange, yellowish brown, red brown and brown, while there was general change to bright red in the second millennium BC.  The researchers noticed that this corresponds to Akkadian literature, where red on the body and face is depicted in positive language, and people are referred to as “dark-headed,” explaining why the hair and beard is almost always black.   Astrid Nunn, the author, concludes, “Colors for skin and garments therefore derive from a combination of realism mixed with artistic conventions and social determinants, which in turn are subject to symbolic meaning.”



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