New technique reveals hidden detail in an ancient Etruscan painting

A group of scientists has used a new technique to uncover details in an ancient Etruscan painting. Etruscans were a group of people on the Italian peninsula about 2500 years ago before Rome came to power. A painting of the ancient people had degraded over the eons losing its once colorful detail, becoming essentially a red human-like blob.

Scientists found new details in a painting from the "Tomb of the Monkey" and some scenes depicting the underworld and another work of art. Researchers say that a significant issue in viewing the artwork and learning more about the ancient people is that many paintings are only partly visible, and color has been lost. Researcher Gloria Adinolfi says a major issue is the significant loss of colors in the preserved paintings due to the physical chemical composition of some of the specific colors.

To reveal the lost colors in the paintings, the scientists use something called multi-illumination hyperspectral extraction or MHX. The technique involves taking dozens of images using visible, infrared, and ultraviolet bands of light that are processed using algorithms developed by the National Research Council of Italy. The technique can detect Egyptian blue, which is a color developed in ancient Egypt with a very specific response in a single spectral band.

Using the technique, the team analyzed other remaining colors to determine what the painting looked like originally. With a combination of MHX and color analysis, the team revealed scenes that had vanished from the ancient paintings. Among the recovered scenes included depictions of the Etruscan underworld that showed rocks, trees, and water.

The team was also able to recover a painting that looks like a red blur at first glance, but after the analysis was completed, the painting showed a person carrying an object and details of the person's hair and face. The techniques will be used on other paintings in the future.