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Phoenician sculptures were originally painted


Chemical analysis performed on Phoenician ivory carvings dating back to the 8th century B.C. have revealed that the artworks were originally colourfully painted and decorated with gold.

These metals are found in pigments commonly used in antiquity, such as the copper-based pigment Egyptian blue or the iron-based pigment hematite. The metals are not normally in ivory nor in the soil where the artifacts were long buried, explains Ina Reiche, a chemist at the Laboratory of Molecular & Structural Archaeology, in Paris. Reiche led the research, which was performed on ivory originally unearthed in Syria and now held at Baden State Museum, in Karlsruhe, Germany.

Phoenicians were seafaring Semitic traders who pioneered the use of an alphabet later adopted in ancient Greece, and they controlled the valuable royal-purple pigment trade throughout the Mediterranean during the period 1500–300 B.C.

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Story: Sarah Everts, Chemical & Engineering News | Photo: Musée du Louvre/R. Chipault

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