Prehistoric Color: Ochre, Sienna & Umber

Prehistoric Color: Ochre, Sienna & Umber

Since prehistoric times the naturally occurring colors of ochre, sienna, & umber have been brightening up the world around us, and caveman paintings done in sienna still survive today.  Ochres occur in various shades and colors, generally ranging from yellow to red to brown.

Ochre deposits near the village of Roussillon. Photo by elbisreverri.

The history of Ocher in Provence began 110 million years ago when the area was covered by a sea, which deposited a mix of gray clay and sea sand full of minerals. These minerals included Glauconite, the distant ancestor of Goethite which gives Ocher its color range from yellow, the iron oxide limonite, to orange, to red or iron oxide hematite. Man or pre-humans' use of Ocher began with body painting, burial and fertility rites as found in both Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon archeological sites. But the most dramatic prehistoric use of Ocher can be found in the nearby caves of Lascaux and Chauvet where some of the most beautiful examples of early human art have survived for over 30,000 years. - Ochre: Colors of Provence

Natural Pigments

North American vs. French Quarries

The set of colors below are all natural pigments with variations in shade between the 'colonial' North American quarries and the French Quarries.

Colonial Yellow Ochre

Natural Yellow

Colonial Raw SiennaLight Sienna
Colonial Burnt Sienna

Burnt Sienna

Colonial Raw Umber

Natural Umber

Colonial Burnt Umber

Burnt Umber

Colonial Red

Natural Red

More Natural Pigments

Light Yellow Ochre

Dark Yellow Ochre

Havana Ochre

Brown Ochre

Red OchreNatural Sienna
Nicosia Green

Natural Black


Venetian Red

Verona Green Earth

Colonial Violet

Man-made Pigments


Colors enhanced by mineral based pigments.

Curry Yellow


Clay Brown

Pistachio Green

Turquoise Green

Pewter Grey

Sky Blue

Lavender Blue

Rose Wood


Red Brick

Blackcurrant Red


Colors of organic and mineral oxides.

Titanium White

Lemon Yellow

Yellow 920

Orange 960

Environox Terra Cotta

Brown 610

Environox Dark Brown

Black 318

Cinnabar Red

Red 140

Environox Falun Red

S.O.F Green


Green MC

S.O.F Blue

Charron Blue

Blue MC

Ultramarine Blue

Images and information are from The Earth Pigments Company Located in Tucson, Arizona. You can read about the quarries of The Société des Ocres de France here.

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Showing 1 - 17 of 17 Comments


Oh, this post is great! I love all the colors!


So many pretty colours *w*


WOW these are pretty colours!


like everyone else WOW these colors are beautiful!


This is FANTASTIC. Thanks for posting!


oooo some of those blues make my mouth water :D


agree!! :D
love these vibrant and earth tone colours!!


OMG! What beauties . . . I just want get my fingers in 'em.


i love little piles of powder! i want to smear them on my eyelids


I'd love to see some palettes made from these colours!

Adam Cope

Prehistoric artists used principally haeminite red ocre & managanese dioxide black.

Lascaux is the exception with it's four colour palette.

lovely colours!


love love love the earth! :-)

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