Hidden Ancient Egyptian Paintings Revealed Thanks To New Digital Imaging Tool

This image was revealed to be a vulture, not a hawk. Evans et al

Scientists have used a new imaging technique to re-examine Egyptian art and find details that were previously missing.

Linda Evans and Anna-Latifa Mourad from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia describe in their paper in the Journal of Archaeological Science how they used a technique called DStretch to analyze the ancient paintings. These paintings were found at Beni Hassan, an ancient Egyptian cemetery that’s located near to the city of Minya in modern Egypt.

"Egyptologists have not realised [DStretch's] potential in helping us to examine and record ancient wall paintings," Dr Evans told IFLScience.

First developed in 2005, DStretch allows digital images to be enhanced, helping to reveal faint paintings and engravings. The software analyzes three bands of RGB color in an image, and improves the intensity and saturation of them. It sort of stretches the colors out and then maps them back to normal, to show a greater distinction. It's been used on everything from rock art to Mars rover images.

Beni Hassan, used in the Middle Kingdom period (2050 and 1710 BC), is known for its exceptional artwork. Previously we’ve unearthed some odd things there, like a mongoose being led on a leash.

The researchers identified a third pig in this image. Evans et al

Tombs cut into the rock, believed to belong to commoners at the time, contain scenes of daily life such as farming, hunting, and fishing. The artwork is all multi-colored, using shades of red, brown, blue, green, black, and white, which made digitally enhancing the images a bit difficult according to the researchers.

But doing so yielded a number of interesting discoveries. For example, they have found a herd of pigs drawn on one of the walls of the tombs, only the second known drawing of pigs from the Middle Kingdom period, and another depicting bats.

“The most surprising outcome of the DStretch study has been the confirmation of new images of animals that are incredibly rare in Egyptian art," said Dr Evans.

“There are virtually no depictions of pigs or bats in all of Egyptian art, but we can now confirm that they appear a number of times at Beni Hassan."

Another image showed people dunking a pig into water, with workmen grasping the creature’s hind legs. It was thanks to using DStretch that the researchers were able to confirm this was a pig, with hooves, a snout, and bristles on its back.

This weird painting shows a pig being dunked in water. Evans et al
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