Preserving History with Science: Chemical Imaging Unravels Enigmatic Details in Egyptian Art


Two nearly 3,000-year-old ancient Egyptian paintings were found in the Theban Necropolis, close to the River Nile, and researchers employing a cutting-edge method have revealed buried information in them.

The murals are found in chapels inside the graves, where people might assemble to remember the deceased.

The researchers were able to identify unusual adjustments made by the painters in Egyptian paintings using portable chemical imaging technologies. These alterations are often assumed to be the result of highly organized procedures.

The investigation was conducted inside the tombs using cutting-edge portable technology, breaking with convention in Egyptology as most studies are typically conducted in labs or museums.

According to Philippe Martinez, an Egyptologist at the Sorbonne University in Paris and the study’s primary author, “What is new is the way we are trying to use those tools.” The research was released on Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE.

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Peering into the Past

Technology for chemical imaging uses X-ray fluorescence. X-rays, which are more frequently employed to look for fractures, produce a map of the painting’s surface down to the molecular level, including information on its chemical composition. 

Hyperspectral imaging is a different method that examines the artwork at many wavelengths, such as ultraviolet and infrared, exposing information that is not apparent to the human eye. Two tombs from the Ramesside Period (1292 BC to 1075 BC) of ancient Egypt made use of digital technology.

The first painting in the study is in the tomb chapels of Menna, a pharaoh Amenhotep III official whose work is regarded as “the apogee of ancient Egyptian painting,” according to the study. 

The observed change was hidden while the artwork was young but is now apparent to the unaided eye, probably as a result of chemical change over time. Martinez remarked that Menna resembled the Egyptian equivalent of the Mona Lisa. It’s one of the nicest tombs, well-known for 200 years, and in excellent condition.

In one scene, Menna lifts his hands in front of his face as he and his wife worship Osiris, one of the most revered deities in ancient Egypt. However, a third hand is obscured by the white background layer, indicating that the figure was altered.

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Source: CNN

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