Soil Colour Charts

Archaeologists are expected to characterise soil colour for all relevant contexts. I understand that this is important for two reasons:

  1. To distinguish between contexts which differ by colour;
  2. To help identify the nature of the soil, which would help in an understanding of the preservation of the artifacts, as well as helping to understand the environmental conditions of the site in general.

It is therefore really frustrating for me that I find describing colour difficult. The Museum of London Archaeolgist Service’s( MOLAS) 3rd edition (1994) ‘ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE MANUAL‘ recommends the following characterisation:

MODIFIER HUE COLOUR
light pinkish pink
mid reddish red
dark yellowish yellow
brownish brown
greenish green
bluish blue
greyish grey
white
black

I judged our soil to have a mid to dark orangy-brown colour. But this is not an option in this scheme. I am only allowed one option from each column. So is it mid or dark, reddish, yellowish or brownish, red, yellow or brown? I don’t know!

Munsell's color system represented as a three-...

Munsell’s color system represented as a three-dimensional solid showing all three color making attributes: lightness, saturation and hue. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The alternative standard is the Munsell Colour Chart. Unfortunately it costs over a hundred pounds to buy – something which was noted by the financial director of The British Academy regarding British archaeological missions in Egypt. His suggestion was to forbid its use and to switch to using Dulux paint Colour Charts. This was understandably ridiculed by field archaeologists!

But his idea may not be so stupid. The ICI/Dulux Colour Palette notation system is a propriatory colour system that can be cross referenced with the Munsell Colour System. So I went out and obtained an (almost) complete range of Dulux colour swatches from a hardware superstore.

The colour of one sample of soil matched the ‘Sunflower Symphony 1‘ colour swatch (a mid-brown). Its ICI/Dulux colour notation is 10YY 12/300. Searching for Dulux 10YY 12/300 in the online Encycolourpedia enabled me to translate this into the approximate Munsell code 10YR 4/4. Comparing the colour of the printed swatch with the same colour on my Toshiba laptop screen, a relatively cheap uncallibrated screen, there was not a very good match. So I do need to use their colour swatches, or use a good quality colour callibrated printer.

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