The radio lab episode emphasized, that “until modern times people didn’t see blue”, which is false and also that only Egyptians had a word for blue. Well the Egyptians got their lapis lazuli from Afghanistan where it has been mined and traded since Bronze Age, so seriously how could they mine it if they couldn’t see it?
I looked a little more into the whole blue in languages of other cultures thing and blue was definitely in early Vedic culture, so 3000 BCE, think blue Krishna, who is indeed described as “nila” in Sanskrit which is where many languages derive their own word for blue, (eg. anil in Spanish, al-nili Arabic…) but he is also desribed as”dark”
Indigo the natural blue plant dye also came from the Indus Valley into Eqypt, and was the only blue dye until 1897 in the Indus Valley it’s use dates back to Bronze Age (3000-1300bce)
But the oldest known use of indigo is actually in Peru, way predating the Indus trade…
Woad was also used in Western Europe to dye cloth (same pigment, different concentration so lighter colour), and blue died textiles have been found in chieftains burial sites dating back to 800BCE, probably pointing to its value due to its rarity.
The absence of blue in Homer and the particular emphasis on the idea of a blue sky, and without the description of ”blue sky” it is assumed blue cannot be seen, but maybe it is more accurate to say, ancient people did not describe the sky as blue? but could see and valued other blue things, because indeed blue is rare in nature. But….the word for sky in Tamil which comes from sanskrit translates as the blue…so?
There is a paper that disputes both Geiger and Gladstone’s assertions, that the podcast were based on, specifically relating to the Indian texts the Rig Vedas
The Indian text Mahabharata dating back to 3000 bce so, concurrent with Egyptian culture, describes Krishna as blue (nila) and his name means “blue-black” or ”dark blue”…so it wasn’t the Eqyptians alone who had special blue powers.
So I thought ok, so maybe it wasn’t until modern times that the sky was described as blue, but no…Contrary to the podcast interviewee who is quoting Gladstone, “there are no descriptions of blue sky in the Vedic texts” but the word blue in Ancient Indian texts is used to describe other things, just not the sky, such as Krishna, monkeys etc that are holy, perhaps the researcher was suggesting they were using the word blue wrong? Or perhaps, as with the Homer reference, that the idea of the sky as blue as the benchmark for identifying blue is problematic and is not connected to the ability to see the colour blue at all.
The Natyashastra is a dance and theatre manual which dates from 200bce, that has extensive reference to colours, refers to the sky as dark blue and also how colours are derived, ie, green from blue and yellow etc…
Also there are blue animals, just not so many in Europe… even the Eurasian Blue Tit isn’t very blue,
Thank you 🙏