How did humanity discover how to make colors?
The quick answer is that we, even as cave-dwellers, ground up everything we could get our hands on. Comic creator of Veritable Hokum and historian Korwin Briggs recently assembled a chart that demonstrates the incredible millenniums-long process that resulted from that urge. Many of the paint colors that we take for granted today were actually difficult to come by for most of human history.
Often because the stuff we ground up to make colors was poisonous and kind of killed us!
Briggs has assembled a fascinating collection of color origins, from pre-history to present day. Turns out the developing world in the Bronze Age was probably a hotbed of madness, as arsenic and mercury were mixed into eye-popping paints and dyes used on pretty much everything.
You can see the rest of the chart over at Veritable Hokum, along with Briggs’s more detailed explanations of the origins of these colors. Poisons! Emperors! Dragon’s blood! It’s fascinating stuff.