Rock Cycle - Minerals (5B)
Post Lab 

  • Distinguishing colors derived from minerals.
  • Comparing natural colors with those found in early paintings.
  • pigments
  • paint colors
  • reference books on ancient art
  • Rocks and Minerals (Eyewitness Books) by R.F. Symes
  • Internet

Students look at paintings to determine which minerals may have been used to create different colors.

hematite is used to make a red pigment


Students are familiar with a world of color. They do not realize that the colors that we use today in crayons and other items are chemical "copycats" of colors originally made of finely crushed minerals. The first paints were produced by crushing colored rocks and mixing the powders with animal fats. Wax was also used in paints (encaustic painting), dating back to ancient Greece. This incredibly durable medium was used to adorn not only sculptures, but murals, boats, and buildings. The Greeks also used wax paints in the earliest known form of easel painting.

Today's paints are a fluid suspension of crushed matter in a liquid film that converts to a solid film when a thin layer is applied to a metal, wood, stone, paper or other related material. Many minerals have been or are used as paint pigments. The color black is powdered coal. Dark blue is powdered lapis lazuli. Yellow is powdered pyrite. Vermilion (light violet red) is powdered cinnabar. Red is powdered hematite. Green is powdered malachite. Light blue is azurite. Very dark green is powdered green clay (which is technically a variety of different minerals). Gray is powdered molybdenite. White is powdered diatomite, which is a rock. A number of these pigments are toxic to humans, so their use has been discontinued. In many cases, pigments derived from plants have been substituted for mineral colors.

  1. If you have access to art books that illustrate some of the great paintings of the 12th and 13th century, have the students compare the colors and see if they can decide what minerals the artists may have used to make them. The Rock and Minerals book should be available for comparing of colors.
  2. You may want to give students an Internet research assignment that focuses on cave paintings. Have the students try and learn what minerals were used as pigments. Alternatively, have the students make a list of colors from minerals and then research other colors derived from plants.

Australian petroglyphs, "Mount Borradaile"

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