For the traditional Egyptians, black had optimistic associations; being the colour of fertility and the rich black soil flooded by the Nile. It was the color of Anubis, the god of the underworld, who took the type of a black jackal, and offered safety towards evil to the lifeless. To historic Greeks, black represented the underworld, separated from the residing by the river Acheron, whose water ran black. Those who had committed the worst sins had been despatched to Tartarus, the deepest and darkest level.

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Iron gall ink was a purple-black or brown-black ink produced from iron salts and tannic acids from gall nut. It was the usual writing and drawing ink in Europe, from about the twelfth century to the 19th century, and remained in use well into the twentieth century. Since the mid-19th century, artificial black dyes have largely changed pure dyes. Its primary industrial uses are as a colorant for lacquers and varnishes and in marker-pen inks. Another essential supply of natural black dyes from the seventeenth century onwards was the logwood tree, or Haematoxylum campechianum, which additionally produced reddish and bluish dyes. It is a species of flowering tree within the legume family, Fabaceae, that is native to southern Mexico and northern Central America.

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