Archaeology Magazine

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Phoenicians Added Color to Their Ivory Carvings

Friday, May 24, 2013

(Courtesy Thomas Goldschmidt/Badisches Landesmusem Karlsruhe)PARIS, FRANCE—Chemical analysis with x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy of entire Phoenician ivory carvings has shown that they were once decorated with colorful pigments and some were even decorated with gold. Ina Reiche of the Laboratory of Molecular & Structural Archaeology in Paris and her colleagues at the Louvre detected traces of metals on the reliefs, which were carved in Syria in the eighth century B.C., but are now housed in the Baden State Museum in Karlsruhe, Germany. This suggests that copper-based Egyptian blue and iron-based hematite were applied to the artworks, since such metals are not normally found in ivory, nor in the soil where these sculptures had been buried. “Knowledge of an object’s original appearance can help us understand why it was so visually powerful to ancient viewers,” commented Benjamin W. Porter of the University of California, Berekley.