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New study identifies traces of paint used to decorate the Parthenon Sculptures



Experts have used digital imaging techniques to identify traces of paint and carving techniques used on the Parthenon Sculptures at the British Museum.

The Parthenon Sculptures are a collection of decorative marble sculptures taken from the temple of Athena (the Parthenon) on the Acropolis in Athens.

Made between 447 BC and 432 BC, Lord Elgin (the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire), was granted a permit (firman) between 1801 and 1805 to remove around half of the remaining sculptures at the Parthenon for transportation to Britain, a move that today is highly contested by Greek authorities who have formally requested for their return.

It has long been assumed that the sculptures were left unpainted, however, using visible-induced luminescence imaging, the researchers have been able to identify microscopic traces of an Egyptian blue pigment on the sculpture’s garments. Egyptian blue is a man-made pigment composed of calcium, copper and silicon, that was commonly used in Ancient Greece and Roman, and even as far back as 3,000 BC in Egypt.

Image Credit : Trustees of the British Museum

According to a study, published in the journal Antiquity: “Small traces of white and purple were also detected on the sculptures. True purple pigment was very valuable in the ancient Mediterranean; it was produced from shellfish, but the Parthenon purple apparently was not. The exact nature of the purple remains unclear, but classical texts refer to recipes to make non-shellfish purple.”

A closer analysis has revealed that the pigments were also used to create elaborate floral patterns and other designs on the garments of the sculpted figures, reflecting the rich and elegant nature of classical monuments.

The evidence pertaining to the carving suggests an absence of any discernible technical manipulation between the marble’s surface finish and the paint application. Instead, it points to the sculptors’ emphasis on faithfully reproducing the intended forms, such as wool, linen, and skin, without employing specific surface treatments like keying or abrasion to enhance paint adhesion.

“Even if the surfaces were not explicitly prepared for the application of paint, however, carving and colour were unified in their conception. The Parthenon artists were sympathetic to the final intended polychrome sculpture providing surfaces that evoked textures similar to those of the subjects represented. It is likely that the painters took advantage of these mimetic surfaces to achieve the final effects” said Dr Wootton from King’s College London.

“The elegant and elaborate garments were possibly intended to represent the power and might of the Olympian gods, as well as the wealth and reach of Athens and the Athenians, who commissioned the temple,” says Dr Giovanni Verri, from the Art Institute of Chicago, and formerly a Mellon Fellow at the British Museum.

Verri adds: “The painting is certainly contemporary to the building, as we could see clear traces at the back of the sculpture. After being placed on the building, the back would have no longer been accessible. We can only speculate as to why they painted the back”.


Header Image Credit : Trustees of the British Museum

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Archaeologists find 22 mummified burials in Peru




A Polish-Peruvian team of archaeologists have uncovered 22 mummified burials in Barranca, Peru.

The discovery was made on the Cerro Colorado hill, where the researchers unearthed the burials in one of four mounds located in a cluster.

Bioarchaeologist, Łukasz Majchrzak, said: “The bodies are wrapped in fabrics and plant material known as burial bundles. Between the layers of the fabrics we found ceramics, tools, and cult objects placed as funerary offerings.”

The team also found corn cobs and unidentified plant materials, which were likely placed as food for the deceased on their journey to the afterlife.

Six of the burial bundles contain the remains of adults placed in the fetal position, with their upper and lower limbs tucked under their chests.

According to the researchers, the adult burials are arranged vertically, which makes them appear as if they were sitting. They all have a similar external appearance, wrapped in thick fabric and entwined with rope.

One of the adult bundles is decorated with geometric patterns, while the remaining bundles – as Majchrzak suggests – may contain representations of animals and deities.

The other 16 burial bundles mostly contain the remains of children no older than 2 years old who were placed in a horizontal position.

The team plan to use computed tomography to examine completely preserved burial bundles that have no visible damage to allow for a non-invasive anthropological analysis. In further stages, they plan to carry out a chemical and isotope analysis, including the strontium isotope, which will determine whether the burials are from a local population.

Header Image Credit : R. Dziubińska

This content was originally published on – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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Oldest prehistoric fortress found in remote Siberia




An international team, led by archaeologists from Freie Universität Berlin has uncovered an ancient prehistoric fortress in a remote region of Siberia known as Amnya.

According to a study, published in the scientific journal “Antiquity”, the fortress is a complex system of defensive structures around an ancient settlement, dating from 8,000 years ago.

The fortress is spread across two settlement clusters, Amnya I and Amnya II. Amnya I consists of extant surface features such as banks and ditches, which enclose the tip of a promontory, and 10 house pit depressions. Ten further house pits, located approximately 50m to the east, comprise the open settlement of Amnya II.

Excavations have uncovered approximately 45 pottery vessels within the wider complex, including pointed and flat-based forms that reflect two distinct typological traditions.

The Amnya settlement complex signifies the start of a distinctive, enduring trend of defensive sites among hunter-gatherers in northern Eurasia—an almost continuous tradition that persisted for nearly eight millennia until the Early Modern period.

Tanja Schreiber, archaeologist at the Institute of Prehistoric Archaeology in Berlin and co-author of the study, explains, “Through detailed archaeological examinations at Amnya, we collected samples for radiocarbon dating, confirming the prehistoric age of the site and establishing it as the world’s oldest-known fort.

“Our new palaeobotanical and stratigraphical examinations reveal that inhabitants of Western Siberia led a sophisticated lifestyle based on the abundant resources of the taiga environment,” added Schrieber.

The construction of fortifications by foraging groups has been observed in different parts of the world, primarily in coastal regions during later prehistoric periods. However, the early in inland western Siberia is unparalleled.

According to the researchers, the discovery transforms how we perceive ancient human communities, questioning the notion that the establishment of permanent settlements with grand architecture and intricate social systems began solely with the rise of agriculture.

Header Image Credit: Nikita Golovanov

This content was originally published on – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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