I Can Munsell That

By: Genevieve Everett


I’ve decided to continue something that a previous poster started, and that is to Munsell something other than soil!

First, what is the Munsell color system? The Munsell color system was created by Dr. Albert H. Munsell (1858-1918), an accomplished artist and inventor. “Munsell’s work in developing a systematic approach to teaching and communicating was influential in evolving color science theory at the turn of the century.” We as archaeologists use the Munsell color system to describe soil colors in a profile. I won’t go too deep into this subject, because, well, I am not well versed in it (yet!), but if you want to learn more, I suggest taking the soils class when it is made available.


Now for the fun part! I’ve been thinking, about what to Munsell, and I came to a conclusion, a dangerous one…my vicious cat, Isabelle! I’ve decided that this entire series, at least for the month of October will be ‘Halloween’ themed, so, what better way to do that than with a black (or is she?!) cat. Isabelle decided to be extremely cooperative today with this photo shoot until I put a trowel near her body. Luckily cats shed, A WHOLE LOT, and I was able to find clumps of her hair on the floor.

In the field, you take a small piece of soil from the profile with your trowel, and pack it down so that you can place it under one of the many color chips in the book. NEVER TOUCH THE COLOR CHIP, because they will fade. It usually helps to either be in full sunlight or full shade, because I’m telling yocat-hair-munsellu, many soil colors look like various shades in the book. For example, there are three shades of ‘yellowish brown’ (10YR 5/4, 5/6, 5/8), all of which look pretty much the same, so do yourself a favor and make it a little easier on the eyes. In my case, I took the wadded up ball of fur, and tested it under various color chips. 5YR 2.5/1, black? No. 7.5YR 2.5/1? No. 2.5Y2.5/1, black? YES! Okay, this is not scientific by any means, but it looked the closest to me, and since no one else has tested a Munsell on cat fur before, I’m going to stick with this answer.

What ‘Halloween’ themed thing, blob or monster would you like to see put to the Munsell next week? Leave comments below!

I will leave you with a really cool website, Munsell.com. Check out their color blog! The link below was a project they did to describe the unique soil colors of several National Parks in the United States for the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service:

The Soil Colors of the National Parks

Quoted material:

Albert H. Munsell & The Munsell Color Theory


3 comments to I Can Munsell That

  1. Ben says:

    The icing on ‘pumpkin’ cookies.
    Bones (I hear Dr. Sarah has a lot of them).

  2. Hannah Harvey says:

    What a great post! I would definitely like to know the munsells of pumpkins, ghosts, or candy corn. Also Frankenstein.

  3. Lara messer says:

    yep, second the candy corn…

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