The Intersection of Science and Art: Multi-band Imaging and the Carnegie Boat

Dawn Kriss displays the operation of multi-band imaging equipment to student Jon Kobert (pc: Alec Story)

The Intersection of Science and Art: Multi-band Imaging and the Carnegie Boat

Author: Alec Story, Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Fall 2018

At the CMNH, not all is as it appears. Conservators are working with new methods of scientific imaging in order to recover pigments lost from objects within their ancient Egypt collection. 

New scientific methods and technologies can lead to discoveries that completely challenge our assumptions and perceptions of historical artifacts and museum collections, including photographic processing method called multi-band imaging. 

The setup for multi-band imaging is quite simple: all that is required is an object, a camera, filters, lighting, and a reflectance and color standard. Therefore, multi-band imaging is a technique that can be performed with relative ease, and theoretically, in any location. 

Through both a presentation given by conservator Dawn Kriss and hands-on work at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, we learned about the diversity of wavelengths within the electromagnetic spectrum and their varied uses in artifact imaging and analysis. Of particular interest to Dawn Kriss was visible-induced infrared luminescence (VIL), which displays a black-and-white image of an object. The clear contrast of black-and-white VIL images were - ironically enough - useful for discovering a very colorful pigment: Egyptian Blue. 

Egyptian Blue, as well as other pigments, tend to fade with time or become completely invisible to the human eye, but luckily even trace amounts of pigment can be detected with multi-band imaging. In the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Dawn gave a demonstration of how VIL photographs would be taken of one of the museum’s own artifacts, the Egyptian funerary boat, also known more commonly as the Carnegie Boat. 

As art history students, it was absolutely fascinating to experience the way in which human understanding of artifacts improves as new technologies are introduced to archaeological and museum practice. We look forward to hearing about the results of the analytical imaging at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and what it can tell us about the Carnegie Boat and ancient Egyptian civilization.

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