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Scientists discover world's oldest colors

By Brooks Hays
Scientists discover world's oldest colors
The pink pigments, called porphyrins, were extracted from rocks more than a billion years old. Photo by ANU

July 9 (UPI) -- Scientists have unearthed the world's oldest colors, or pigments, from deep beneath the Sahara.

Researchers found 1.1 million-year-old pink pigments inside ancient rocks dredged from beneath Africa's Great Desert. The colors are more than 500 million years older than the next oldest pigments.

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"The bright pink pigments are the molecular fossils of chlorophyll that were produced by ancient photosynthetic organisms inhabiting an ancient ocean that has long since vanished," Nur Gueneli, an earth scientist at Australia National University, said in a news release.

When diluted, the pigments appear a light pink. When concentrated inside ancient marine shales, the pigments take on a variety of tints, from blood red to deep purple.

Scientists were able to extract the pigment molecules from the ancient rocks after grinding the basalts into a powder.

"The precise analysis of the ancient pigments confirmed that tiny cyanobacteria dominated the base of the food chain in the oceans a billion years ago, which helps to explain why animals did not exist at the time," Gueneli said.

Researchers described their discovery of ancient pigments in the journal PNAS.

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