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June 2 2013

Archaeology’s Hidden Secrets


Ancient ivory carvings made by Phoenician artists some 3,000 years ago have long hidden a secret, even while being openly displayed in museums around the world: The sculptures were originally painted with colorful pigments, and some were decorated with gold.

Scholars had suspected that Phoenician ivory sculptures might initially have been painted, but to date most studies had examined just a few spots on ivory surfaces, Reiche says. Her team used a synchrotron to do X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy to analyze the entire surface of the artifacts with micrometer resolution, revealing the spatial distribution of the lost pigmentation.

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