Ancient Art Uncovered


By Cameron Vernali '20

Published Jan 17, 2018 3:00 PM

A new method enabled scientists from UCLA and the National Gallery of Art to reveal precise details on an Egyptian painting.

The original painting (left), along with images made using hyperspectral reflectance, luminescence and X-ray fluorescence. Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art.

Scientists at UCLA and the National Gallery of Art were recently the first to use three specific imaging techniques at once on a second-century piece of Egyptian art. In doing so, they uncovered precise details on the piece.

This specific combination of techniques, termed “macroscale multimodal chemical imaging,” includes three methods already used in the imaging world: X-ray fluorescence, hyperspectral diffuse reflectance and luminescence. Applying three different kinds of imaging at once is useful because each provides different information from the others. As a result, the scientists can map the molecules present on every pixel of the painting’s surface.

The project was led by UCLA scientist Ioanna Kakoulli, a professor of materials science and engineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, and John Delaney, a senior imaging scientist at the National Gallery.

The scientists focused on an Egyptian Fayum portrait, a type of painting attached to mummies in ancient Egypt. With their imaging combination, the scientists could tell not just what materials were used in creating the work, but also the order in which they were applied on the painting. The imaging also revealed artistic methods used in ancient Egypt around that period.

“Without even taking a minute sample from the painting, we mapped out detailed information that tells us exactly what materials were used, and how they were prepared,” Kakoulli says. “We were also able to link their production technology to other ancient ‘industries’ and practices, such as mining, metallurgy, pottery, dyeing, pharmacopeia and alchemy.”

This new combination of imaging techniques likely can be useful in other fields, including biological, forensic and geographic sciences, Kakoulli says. “Our approach will revolutionize the way important and irreplaceable archaeological materials are analyzed and interpreted.”

To view the original article from the UCLA Newsroom, visit https://ucla.in/2jPi8O1.