You’ll NEVER Unsee This: Ultraviolet Light Reveals How Ancient Greek Statues Really Looked!
Images by Gargam3L
Have you ever watched the movie Gladiator and wondered why all those Roman buildings were all white, all the time? Well, blame the film producers—not the Romans!
If it were possible for you to view these types of buildings as they appeared thousands of years ago, you would be faced with a rainbow of colours as opposed to chalklike white or grey. However, by way of modern “raking light” techniques, it is possible to reproduce this ancient kaleidoscope of colours, and even to figure out which pigments went where in many cases.
To start the process, lamplight is beamed nearly parallel to the exterior of the object or structure. If the procedure is being conducted on a painting, even brushstrokes or dust will be illuminated—yet this is not the case when scrutinizing buildings or statues. Instead, this method will reveal minute differences in the height and texture of the stone, because each different colour or type of paint weathers and deteriorates at slightly different rates. This not only reveals which colours were once present, but it also exposes intricate patterns which were once both obvious and awe-inspiring.
In addition to “raking light,” ultraviolet light can also be utilized to reconstruct (or rewrite) history. Since ultraviolet light inherently causes organic compounds to shine brightly, and because ancient pigments contain far more organic materials than most contemporary pigments do, it is fairly easy to determine how much old or new paint is present on any given artifact. In the artworld, this technique can illuminate touch-ups and frauds; in the realm of architecture, the method again highlights long-lost pigments
Of course, it is still difficult to know exactly how much of each colour was located where with absolute precision. However, it is vital to note that stones and shells—crushed or otherwise—really do not change much in appearance, even after millennia. With this in mind, infrared and x-ray spectroscopy can aid in answering the questions that still remain. Since every unique material only absorbs particular wavelengths of light, spectroscopes can be utilized to determine which specific materials are present: infrared light will reveal precise organic compounds, and x-ray light will expose rocks, minerals, and other heavy elements.
And just like that, a stoic, greyish-white statue of Augustus becomes gaudy, and almost worthy of paint-by-number colouring book.
Be careful what you wish for—
*This content was inspired by an amazing article that can be found here .