Ultraviolet light reveals how ancient Greek statues really looked
2010-08-25 0:00

By Esther Inglis-Arkell | io9.com



Original Greek statues were brightly painted, but after thousands of years, those paints have worn away. Find out how shining a light on the statues can be all that’s required to see them as they were thousands of years ago.

Although it seems impossible to think that anything could be left to discover after thousands of years of wind, sun, sand, and art students, finding the long lost patterns on a piece of ancient Greek sculpture can be as easy as shining a lamp on it. A technique called ‘raking light’ has been used to analyze art for a long time. A lamp is positioned carefully enough that the path of the light is almost parallel to the surface of the object. When used on paintings, this makes brushstrokes, grit, and dust obvious. On statues, the effect is more subtle. Brush-strokes are impossible to see, but because different paints wear off at different rates, the stone is raised in some places – protected from erosion by its cap of paint – and lowered in others. Elaborate patterns become visible.

Ultraviolet is also used to discern patterns. UV light makes many organic compounds fluoresce. Art dealers use UV lights to check if art has been touched up, since older paints have a lot of organic compounds and modern paints have relatively little. On ancient Greek statues, tiny fragments of pigment still left on the surface glow bright, illuminating more detailed patterns.

Once the pattern is mapped, there is still the problem of figuring out which paint colors to use. A series of dark blues will create a very different effect than gold and pink. Even if enough pigment is left over so that the naked eye can make out a color, a few thousand years can really change a statue’s complexion. There’s no reason to think that color seen today would be anything like the hues the statues were originally painted.

There is a way around this dilemma. The colors may fade over time, but the original materials – plant and animal-derived pigments, crushed stones or shells – still look the same today as they did thousands of years ago. This can also be discovered using light.

Infrared and X-ray spectroscopy can help researchers understand what the paints are made of, and how they looked all that time ago. Spectroscopy relies on the fact that atoms are picky when it comes to what kind of incoming energy they absorb. Certain materials will only accept certain wavelengths of light. Everything else they reflect. Spectroscopes send out a variety of wavelengths, like scouts into a foreign land. Inevitably, a few of these scouts do not come back. By noting which wavelengths are absorbed, scientists can determine what materials the substance is made of. Infrared helps determine organic compounds. X-rays, because of their higher energy level, don’t stop for anything less than the heavier elements, like rocks and minerals. Together, researchers can determine approximately what color a millennia-old statue was painted.
...




Read the full article at: io9.com






Related Articles
True Colors - Smithsonianmag.com
Smithsonian.com Photo Gallery - True Colors (Images)
A 26-foot-tall Anubis Statue Installed at Denver International Airport
Colossal statue of Thoth discovered at temple of Amenhotep III in Luxor
Statues Prompt ’Suicide’ Emergency Calls
Ancient figurines were toys not mother goddess statues
Greek Fisherman Nets Ancient Statue
6th Century Buddha Statue Found In Swedish Viking Hoard
Huge statue of Roman ruler found


Latest News from our Front Page

The Unsafe Child: Less Outdoor Play is Causing More Harm than Good
2015-09-02 0:39
The third grade classroom that was visiting our nature center for the day consisted of mostly boys–rowdy, loud and rambunctious boys. As we started out into the woods, the children spoke loudly to each other in anticipation of what was to come. After playing a quick game and explaining the ground rules, it was time for free play. As soon ...
Rights group demand police need warrant to access data
2015-09-01 23:48
American citizens should be able to rest safe in the knowledge that no one has the right to pry into their digital records, where they have been and how long they stayed there. The Supreme Court has just received a brief from the Electronic Frontier Federation (EFF) stating that this should certainly be the case. However, in the case of Davis v. ...
Murder Rates Rising Sharply in Many U.S. Cities
2015-09-01 23:33
Cities across the nation are seeing a startling rise in murders after years of declines, and few places have witnessed a shift as precipitous as this city [Milwaukee]. With the summer not yet over, 104 people have been killed this year–after 86 homicides in all of 2014. More than 30 other cities have also reported increases in violence from a year ...
Bulgaria - Islamic State Terrorists Caught Crossing Into Europe Posing As Refugees
2015-09-01 23:47
Bulgarian authorities near the Gyueshevo border checkpoint detained the five men, aged between 20 and 24, late on Wednesday, Bulgarian broadcaster NOVA TV reported. The men were stopped by a border guard, who they attempted to bribe with a “wad of dollars.” However, they were searched and Islamic State propaganda, specific Jihadists prayers and decapitation videos were found on their phones. In ...
How This NY Mom Made the Case for Her Son’s Religious Vaccine Exemption
2015-09-01 22:27
An unidentified, Russian immigrant mother who practices the Russian Orthodox faith, has secured a religious vaccine exemption for her autistic son. New York has a bill on the table to eliminate religious exemption and to root out those who weren’t refusing vaccines on strictly devout, religious grounds. Yet, this woman’s plight goes back before talk of eliminating the exemption – two ...
More News »