Red hematite powder was also found scattered around the remains at a grave site in a Zhoukoudian cave complex, near Beijing. The site has evidence of habitation as early as 700,000 years ago. The hematite might have been used to symbolize blood in an offering to the dead.
Red, black and white were the first colors used by artists in the Upper Paleolithic age, probably because natural pigments such as red ochre and iron oxide were readily available where early people lived. Madder, a plant whose root could be made into a red dye, grew widely in Europe, Africa and Asia. The cave of Altamira in Spain has a painting of a bison colored with red ochre that dates to between 15,000 and 16,500 BC. Red was also the first color, after black and white, to have its own name.
A red dye called Kermes was made beginning in the Neolithic Period by drying and then crushing the bodies of the females of a tiny scale insect in the genus Kermes, primarily Kermes vermilio. The insects live on the sap of certain trees, especially Kermes oak tree near the Mediterranean region. Jars of kermes have been found in a Neolithic cave-burial at Adaoutse, Bouches-du-Rhône. Kermes from oak trees was later used by Romans, who imported it from Spain. A different variety, called Kermes of Armenia, was made from Kermes insects which lived on the roots and stems of certain herbs. It was mentioned in texts as early as the 8th century BC, and it was used by the ancient Assyrians and Persians.
Kermes is also mentioned in the Bible. In the Book of Exodus, God instructs Moses to have the Israelites bring him an offering including cloth "of blue, and purple, and scarlet." The term used for scarlet in the 4th century Latin Vulgate version of the Bible passage is coccumque bis tinctum, meaning "colored twice with coccus." Coccus, from the ancient Greek Kokkos, means a tiny grain, and is the term that was used in ancient times for the Kermes vermilio insect used to make the Kermes dye. This was also the origin of the expression "dyed in the grain."
In ancient Egypt, red was associated with life, health, and victory. Egyptians would color themselves with red ochre during celebrations. Egyptian women used red ochre as a cosmetic to redden cheeks and lips, and also used henna to color their hair and paint their nails.
But, like many colors, it also had a negative association, with heat, destruction and evil. A prayer to god Isis said: "Oh Isis, protect me from all things evil and red." The ancient Egyptians began manufacturing pigments in about 4000 BC. Red ochre was widely as a pigment for wall paintings, particularly as the skin color of men. An ivory painter's palette found inside the tomb of King Tutankhamun had small compartments with pigments of red ochre and five other colors. The Egyptians used the root of the rubia, or madder plant, to make a dye, later known as alizarin, and also used it to…