Amara West project blog

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Investigating life in an Egyptian town

Amara West 2015: blue – who knew?


Kate Fulcher, UCL/British Museum Collaborative PhD student

I am back at Amara West for a second season, as part of my AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award on “Painting Amara West: The technology and experience of colour in New Kingdom Nubia.” This time I am armed with an adapted camera that can detect minute quantities of Egyptian blue, which Giovanni Verri at the Courtauld Institute in London taught me to use. Egyptian blue luminesces in the infrared spectrum when it is excited by visible light, so if it can be photographed with an infrared-sensitive camera while illuminated it will glow very brightly. It is so bright that tiny pieces of remaining Egyptian blue that cannot be seen by eye can be captured in the photograph. To set up the camera the infrared filter is removed and a filter added to the lens that only allows infrared light to enter. Asthe photography is done in dim or dark light a strong flash is used with a filter on to remove infrared light, otherwise infrared from the flash or natural light would swamp the IR luminescence from the Egyptian blue.

Shrine fragment F5003
In 2011, the project excavated dozens of painted and moulded mud plaster fragments, recovered from the rubble in front of a mastaba in a large room in house E13.7, probably of late 19th dynasty date. The form of the fragments, with cavetto cornice and torus moulding, suggests a small niche, perhaps to hold a stela, was set above the mastaba: the image above shows a cavetto cornice, painted white.

Shrine fragment F5003, with Egyptian blue identified

Both the niche and the mastaba were repainted at least five times and traces of colours from these earlier phases are visible, including blue. This composite photograph overlays an image, where blue luminesces, above the standard image. The photographs of this fragment reveal a pattern of blue stripes across the curving cavetto cornice of the niche. I am currently working through all the fragments to help inform a better reconstruction of the original decoration.

Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow the season on Twitter: @NealSpencer_BM and #amarawest

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Filed under: Amara West 2015, conservation, New Kingdom, settlement

2 Responses

  1. Liz Bettles says:

    Hi Kate. I’m currently working in the Dakhla oasis recording and studying colour in paintings from the Roman mammisi at Kellis – including blue. I’m very interested in the camera technique you describe to identify Egyptian Blue as we have an infra-red camera here – but I’m not quite clear what you mean about the removal and adding of lenses to the camera. Could you possibly give me a fuller explanation of your technique? Many thanks indeed. Liz

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