Moscow University

Pigmentation polymorphism in the ancient Mediterranean on the materials of fine art

Shpak L.Yu.

Lomonosov Moscow State University, Anuchin Research Institute and Museum of Anthropology, Mochovaya st., 11, Moscow, 125009, Russia

Shpak Larisa Y., PhD., ORCID ID: 0000-0002-6936-9426;


Introduction. All accumulated scientific information on pigmentation concerns only modern populations. Pigmentation polymorphism of ancient populations can be studied based on the ancient art sources, and most of the polychrome images of a person from the period of antiquity come from the Mediterranean region. Materials and methods. We studied eye color and hair color of persons on the Greek vase paintings, Egyptian paintings, Etruscan funeral paintings, Roman fresco paintings, and Fayum portraits of Greek-Roman Egypt. The total sample size is 947 individuals: 413 are female images, 534 are male. Hair color was determined on the bases of E. Fischer scale and eye color – the scale of V.V. Bunak. Results and discussion. In general sample, the population represented by the portraits of Fayum and Egypt demonstrated a predominantly dark pigmentation. Greek vase paintings revealed a higher percentage of depigmented images of hair in comparison with Egypt. The Etruscan mural paintings demonstrated depigmented hair and eyes frequency similar to the Greeks. Many depigmented variants – about 40% of light and mixed eye shades – as well as light brown and rufous hair shades, were determined in Romans frescoes. There is a clear discrepancy in the distribution of light hair shades in men and women on Roman frescoes (24.6% and 42.8% respectively), therefore we can assume the presence of cosmetic coloring in women or more cases of transitional variants in the female sample in contrast to the male one. Conclusion. The results of the polymorphism of the pigmentation of the Mediterranean groups indicate the apparent distancing of the Roman sample and its greatest depigmentation in all groups. This can be explained as a possible scale shift of definition of the transitional variants, as well as an objective phenomenon.


Mediterranean ancient art; Greek vase painting; ancient Greeks; ancient Egyptians; Etruscans; Romans; pigmentation; hair color; eye color

DOI: 10.32521/2074-8132.2019.2.100-106

Цит.: Shpak L.Yu. Pigmentation polymorphism in the ancient Mediterranean on the materials of fine art // Moscow University Anthropology Bulletin (Vestnik Moskovskogo Universiteta. Seria XXIII. Antropologia), 2019; 2/2019; с. 100-106

Download text
Свидетельство о регистрации ПИ № ФС77-35672 от 19 марта 2009 г.
Website developer