First described by the naturalist Pliny the Elder around the middle of the First Century CE, alongside black dyes obtained from burnt ivory (“elephantinon”) and cuttlefish (“sæpia”), he simply says: “We have indicum also, a substance imported from India, the composition of which is at present unknown to me.” The pigment is in fact a dried and powdered clay, traditionally used as a house paint, or mixed with size (dissolved starch) to make Indian ink.True Indian black was later replaced with crushed charcoal as a more readily available alternative.


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