A Unique Collection of Palaeolithic Painted Portable Art: Characterization of Red and Yellow Pigments from the Parpalló Cave (Spain)

PLoS One. 2016 Oct 12;11(10):e0163565. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0163565. eCollection 2016.


In this work we analyze the pigments used in the decoration of red and yellow motifs present in the portable art of the Parpalló Cave (Gandía, Spain), one of the most important Palaeolithic sites in the Spanish Mediterranean region. Energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (EDXRF) and spectrophotometry in the visible region (CIEL*a*b*color coordinates and spectral reflectance curves) were used to perform in situ fast analyses of the red and yellow motifs with portable equipment and to characterize their elemental composition and their colorimetric perception, respectively. According to the elemental composition, the intensity of the fluorescence iron signals in red and yellow motifs are higher than average values in the rock substrates. As expected, red motifs possess high values of the chromatic coordinate a* and yellow motifs possess high values of b*. This characterization was complemented with FT-IR analyses of microsamples detached from the red and yellow colored zones of a small set of plaquettes. Our results show that the artists used red and yellow pigments in the decoration likely derived from natural iron oxides as hematite and goethite.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Art / history
  • Caves
  • Color
  • Colorimetry
  • History, Ancient
  • Paint / analysis*
  • Pigments, Biological / analysis*
  • Spain
  • Spectrometry, X-Ray Emission*
  • Spectroscopy, Fourier Transform Infrared*


  • Pigments, Biological

Grant support

This research was supported by the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (Spain) projects, HAR2011-24878 and HAR2014-52671 (http://www.mineco.gob.es/), and by the Conselleria d' Educació, Investigació, Cultura i Esport (Generalitat Valenciana) project PROMETEOII/2013/016 (http://www.ceice.gva.es/inicio). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.