Chemical imaging technology reveals hidden details in Ancient Egyptian paintings

Archaeologists from the Martinez of Sorbonne University, working in collaboration with the University of Liège, have used portable chemical imaging technology to review hidden details in Ancient Egyptian paintings.

Ancient artwork in Egypt are commonly thought to be the result of highly formalised workflows that produced skilled works. However, most studies of these paintings and the process that created them take place in laboratory conditions or in museums.

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According to a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers used portable devices to perform chemical imaging on paintings in their original context, allowing the team to identify the alterations, layering and composition of paint while in the field.

Two paintings from the Ramesside Period were analysed as part of the study from tomb chapels in the Theban Necropolis. The first painting showed alterations made to the position of a figure’s arm, although the reason for this small change is uncertain.

On the second painting, the analysis uncovered numerous adjustments to the crown and other royal items depicted on a portrait of Ramesses II, a series of changes that most likely relate to some change in symbolic meaning over time.

According to the study: “In both cases, the precise and readable imaging of the physical composition of the painted surface offers a renewed visual approach based of chemistry, that can be shared through a multi- and interdisciplinary approach.

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However, this also leads to a more complex description of pigment mixtures that could have multiple meanings, where the practical often leads towards the symbolic, and from there hopefully to a renewed definition of the use of colours in complex sets of ancient Egyptian representations.”


Header Image Credit : David Strivay, University of Liege, CC-BY 4.0

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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.

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