Hidden in Plain Sight—Painted Phoenician Ivories
Bible and archaeology news
May 20, 2013
Recent research exposed hints of red and purple dye on this ivory tablet from Arslan Tash, stored in the Louvre in Paris.
The Phoenicians prospered for 1200 years on the Levantine coast, inspiring the Mediterranean world with economic, literary and colonial achievements. To compensate for their limited agricultural land, they established an extensive maritime trade network, exporting treasured Cedars of Lebanon
, elaborate ivory and metal crafts and purple dye extracted from murex shells. While Phoenician pigmentation was a definitive mark of their culture—the word Phoenician derives from the Greek phoinix
, which may refer to the hue of a dye—their weathered ivory carvings reach modern viewers in their natural, off-white shade.
French and German researchers recently discovered nearly-invisible traces of metal on Phoenician ivories, suggesting the presence of dyes including copper-based Egyptian blue and iron-based hematite, according to a recent X-ray fluorescence microimaging study published in Analytical Chemistry. The researchers’ methods can be applied to a wide variety of ancient sites and artifacts, allowing us to recreate the ancient world with a new and colorful vividness.
BAS Library Members: Read Millard, Alan R. “Well-Hidden Ivories Surface at Nimrud” as it appeared in Biblical Archaeology Review, Jul/Aug 2011.
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