Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Polish atomic physicists study Egyptian frescoes


Thousands of years ago, Egyptians knew many complicated methods of producing dyes. They used them to create many magnificent frescoes, which cover the walls of temples, royal palaces and tombs. Time and atmospheric factors have caused the paintings to lose their initial colours. The chemical reactions have modified the chemical content of the pigment. Thus, the colours we see today, are very distant from the pieces created by their ancient painters.

This is why scientists, with the help of modern knowledge, are looking for ways of recreating these processes to restore the creations of the Egyptian masters and craftsmen to their former glory. According to Dr Marek Pawłowski the spokesman for Andrzej Sołtan Institute for Nuclear Studies in Świerk, this study is a bit like a fascinating detective adventure.

Modern atomic physics provides a valuable research tool. Samples of the plaster covered in ancient dyes are radiated with beams of speeding protons, so that through analysing the radiation emitted from the radiated sample it is possible to establish its chemical and particle content. This way, one can collect the “pieces of the puzzle”, which tell us, what the initial colour of the painting was.

For the past few weeks, a scholarship holder of the Egyptian government – Shaaban Abd El Aal is running research on the ancient dyes, under the eye of Prof. Andrzej Turos. He is applying Particle Induced X-ray Emission (PIXE), which means that characteristic X radiation, emitted from atoms as a result of ionisation of the inner atom layers, is registered on the beam of protons from the electrostatic Van de Graaff accelerator. The energy of the registered radiation provides information on the type of particles, while the intensity indicates its concentration in a given sample.

“Work on this has only started and it is difficult to predict its results. However, we have very high hopes” – Pawłowski explained.

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