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A piece of rare lapis lazuli stone from quarries in Afghanistan, secretions from on ocean-dwelling snail Bolinus brandaris, dried bodies of tiny insects Coccus ilicis, and a ball of “Indian yellow” made from the urine of cows fed only on mango leaves, are just some of the bizarre treasures housed in the long row of cabinets in the Harvard Art Museums’ Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies. This remarkable materials collection, some of which date back more than a hundred years and come from all over the world, represents raw materials from which pigments, dyes and binding media were traditionally made before synthetic pigments became available.

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