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

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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”.

Antiquity

https://doi.org/10.15184/aqy.2023.130

Header Image Credit : Trustees of the British Museum

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Archaeology

Trove of Roman objects linked to feasting found at Ostia antica

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Archaeologists have uncovered a trove of Roman objects linked to ritual feasting at Ostia antica.

Ostia Antica is an ancient harbour town located at the mouth of the Tiber River. The harbour served as the main port for Rome, transporting goods and people from the coast along the Via Ostiensis.

Archaeologists recently excavated the area of Regio I – Insula XV, a “sacred area” or precinct housing several temples and sanctuaries. At the centre is the temple of Hercules,  a 31 x 16 metre monument which dates from the Republican Era.

Excavations have revealed a substantial well situated at the base of the temple of Hercules. Upon draining the well, it was discovered to hold a significant collection of objects dating from the 1st to 2nd century AD.

Among the objects are various ceramics, miniatures, lamps, glass containers, fragments of marble, and burnt animal bones (pigs and cattle). According to the archaeologists, the trove corresponds with ritual feasting associated with cult at the temple.

In a press statement by the Ministry of Culture: “The discovery of burnt bones confirms that animal sacrifices were carried out in the sanctuary, while the common ceramics, also bearing traces of fire, indicate that the meat was cooked and consumed during banquets in honour of divinity. The remains of one or more ritual meals were thrown into the well, the last ones probably when their function had ceased.”

Header Image Credit : Ministry of Culture

Sources : Ministry of Culture

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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Archaeology

Labyrinthine structure discovered from the Minoan civilisation

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Archaeologists have discovered a monumental labyrinthine structure on the summit of Papoura Hill in Crete.

The discovery was made during the installation of a radar system in preparation for the construction of a new airport in the area.

According to experts, the structure dates from between 2000 to 1700 BC shortly before or at the start of the palaeopalatial Minoan period.

The Minoan civilisation was a Bronze Age culture that emerged on the island of Crete around 3100 BC. The culture is known for the monumental architecture and energetic art, and is often regarded as the first civilisation in Europe.

Image Credit : Greek Ministry of Culture

The chronology of the Minoans is characterised into three distinct phases – Early Minoan (EM), Middle Minoan (MM), and Late Minoan (LM).

The palaeopalatial structure is part of the MMI – II grouping in the Middle Minoan, a period in which the first palaces were built and saw the development of the Minoan writing systems, Cretan hieroglyphic and Linear A.

The structure comprises of 8 concentric stone rings that converge on a central circular building. The entire diameter of the complex measures 48 metres and covers an area of approximately 1800 square metres.

Within the central structure are four designated zones in which radial walls intersect vertically and form a labyrinthine structure. Zones A and B appear to be have the main concentration of human activity, evidenced by the presence of large amounts of animals bones.

According to the experts, this residential area likely had a truncated cone or vaulted appearance and is the first monument of this type excavated in Crete. It can perhaps be paralleled with the elliptical MM building of the Chamezi Archaeological Site, as well as with the so-called circular proto-Hellenic cyclopean building of Tiryns.

The Minister of Culture, said: “This is a unique and highly significant find. Solutions are in place to ensure the completion of the archaeological research and the protection of the monument.”

Header Image Credit : Greek Ministry of Culture

Sources : Greek Ministry of Culture

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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