High Tech Turns Etruscan Painting Blur into Fine Detail

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March 2, 2021

Scientists have used cutting-edge technology on ancient art works to reveal details heretofore obscured by the passage of time. In this case, the civilization that produced the art works examined was the Etruscans, who flourished in what was called Etruria beginning about the 8th Century B.C. Their eminence declined sharply in the 3rd and 2nd Centuries B.C., as Rome rose to prominence.

Etruscan architecture borrowed from the Greek tradition and predated the Roman tradition. Etruscan temples and tombs are held up as particularly emblematic of famous ancient architecture.

Etruscan painting Tomb of the Monkey

Most strikingly, a wall painting in the so-called Tomb of the Monkey now shows a clearly defined human holding an object, whereas the ravages of time had rendered that part of the painting a blur of red.

Scientists used a process known as multi-illumination hyperspectral extraction (MHX) to record "pictures" of the wall painting in visible, infrared, and ultraviolet light and then combine the information into a composite whole. In addition to the Tomb of the Monkey wall painting, the scientists examined paintings showing the Etruscan underworld, with newly revealed details of rocks, trees, and water.

Giving the presentation at which the images were shown was Gloria Adinolfi, from Pegaso Srl Archeologia Arte Archeometria, a Rome-based institute of research. Adinolfi spoke at a virtual advent of the joint annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America and the Society for Classical Studies.

The new technique compensates for the eventuality that certain colors, such as a handful of shades of green, lose their efficacy through time. One color that the technique reveals is Egyptian blue, which the ancient Egyptians used for a great many years but their Roman conquerors did not prefer.

The Tomb of the Monkey, built in the 5th Century B.C. and discovered in the 19th Century A.D., is in what the Etruscans called Chiusi and the Romans named Clusium. The central Italian town is known for its tombs, which contain several varieties of sculptures and other art works.

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