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Re-creating the original colors of treasured ivory carvings from the ancient past

Date:
May 29, 2013
Source:
American Chemical Society
Summary:
The fabled ivory carvings from the ancient Phoenician city of Arslan Tash -- literally meaning "Stone Lion" -- may appear a dull monochrome in museums today, but they glittered with brilliant blue, red, gold and other colors 2,800 years ago, a new study has confirmed after decades of speculation.

Ancient Phoenician ivory carvings like this lion head that look colorless today (left) actually were adorned with brilliant colors 2,800 years ago (right), scientists are reporting.
Credit: ACS

The fabled ivory carvings from the ancient Phoenician city of Arslan Tash -- literally meaning "Stone Lion" -- may appear a dull monochrome in museums today, but they glittered with brilliant blue, red, gold and other colors 2,800 years ago, a new study has confirmed after decades of speculation. It appears in the ACS journal Analytical Chemistry.

Ina Reiche and colleagues explain that these carvings are rare, housed in museums like the Louvre, and art experts regard them as the most beautiful ivory carvings of the era. Experts long believed that the lion heads, amulets and other objects were brightly colored, rather than the bland beiges and whites that remain today. But until recently, there was no adequate way to test the ivories for traces of pigment without damaging these priceless objects.

The scientists describe how a non-destructive testing technology brought to life traces of red, blue and other pigments -- and gold gilding -- allowing re-creation of the long-vanished colors that decorated the original ivories. In addition to contributing to a new understanding of the Phoenician carvings, the technology could be used to glimpse the original paintings on other objects, the authors note. Those include the Elgin Marbles, the classical Greek marble sculptures that originally were part of the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis in Athens.


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The above story is based on materials provided by American Chemical Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Ina Reiche, Katharina Müller, Marie Albéric, Oliver Ulrich Heinz Paul Scharf, Andrea Wähning, Aniouar Bjeoumikhov, Martin Radtke, Rolf Simon. Discovering vanished paints and naturally formed gold nanoparticles on 2800 years old Phoenician ivories using SR-FF-microXRF with the Color X-ray Camera. Analytical Chemistry, 2013; 130513030719004 DOI: 10.1021/ac4006167

Cite This Page:

American Chemical Society. "Re-creating the original colors of treasured ivory carvings from the ancient past." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 May 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130529111331.htm>.
American Chemical Society. (2013, May 29). Re-creating the original colors of treasured ivory carvings from the ancient past. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130529111331.htm
American Chemical Society. "Re-creating the original colors of treasured ivory carvings from the ancient past." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130529111331.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

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