September 16, 2008

Inks & Dyes

The vast majority of the Dunhuang manuscripts are written in black ink.Red ink was used for signature seals at the end of a document, and there is one example (Or.8210/S.76) of a medical text where each section starts with a character in red ink. Historical sources tell us that the black ink was made from soot and animal glue, sometimes with additives of various botanical compounds (Zhan, 2007).

There have been a number of recent scientific studies attempting to analyze ink remnants using Raman spectroscopy; the first (Clark, Gibbs, Seddon, Brovenko, & Petrosyan, 1997) identified the red ink as cinnabar, with the additional presence of an organic red pigment that was likely madder; the second (Burgio, Clark, & Gibbs, 1999) found that a blue dye used to colour the paper was indigo. Paper was also dyed yellow, and this dye has been identified as coming from the Phellodendrum Amurense or Amur cork tree, along with other unidentified sources (International Dunhuang Project, 1995).

One distinct feature of Chinese ink was its form; the ink was formed into sticks, often with decorated sides. To write, the ink stick was mixed with water by rubbing it against an ink stone that had a reservoir for water at one end (as in this

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