A row over the colours in Argentina’s flag

ARGENTINA’S national colours are instantly recognisable. The flag’s sky-blue stripes and golden sun adorn everything from football shirts to fridge magnets. A huge monument in Rosario, a port city, marks the site where Manuel Belgrano, a founding father, raised the first flag in 1812. On the anniversary of his death, June 20th, schoolchildren pledge to honour the “white and sky-blue” colours.

But are they saluting the right shade of blue? A study published in a recent edition of Chemistry Select, a peer-reviewed journal, suggests not. Researchers at Argentina’s scientific research council (CONICET) and Brazil’s Federal University of Juiz de Fora examined silk threads from what is thought to be the oldest surviving flag, the enormous but faded San Francisco flag. The shocking discovery: its blue was ultramarine, a much darker pigment.

This is about more than just getting the tint right. Years of civil war followed Argentina’s independence from Spain in 1816. The Federalists, led by Juan Manuel de Rosas, a bloodstained autocrat, fought for decentralised government with strong provinces under dark-blue colours. The...

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