Scientific Results

Multi-Analytical Characterization and Radiocarbon Dating of a
Roman Egyptian Mummy Portrait

Year: 2021

Authors: Dal Fovo A., Fedi M., Federico G., Liccioli L., Barone S., Fontana R.

Autors Affiliation: INO – CNR
INFN

Abstract: Fayum mummy portraits, painted around 2000 years ago, represent a fascinating fusion
of Egyptian and Graeco-Roman funerary and artistic traditions. Examination of these artworks may
provide insight into the Roman Empire’s trade and economic and social structure during one of its
most crucial yet still hazy times of transition. The lack of proper archaeological documentation of
the numerous excavated portraits currently prevents their chronological dating, be it absolute or
relative. So far, their production period has been defined essentially on the basis of the relevant
differences in their pictorial style. Our study introduces the use of Accelerator Mass Spectrometry
(AMS) to assess the age of a fragment of an encaustic painting belonging to the corpus of the Fayum
portraits. The unexpected age resulting from 14C analysis suggests the need to reconsider previous
assumptions regarding the period of production of the Fayum corpus. Furthermore, our multi-analytical,
non-invasive approach yields further details regarding the fragment’s pictorial technique
and constituting materials, based on spectral and morphological analysis and cross-sectional examination.

Journal/Review: MOLECULES

Volume: 26      Pages from: 5368  to: 5383

KeyWords: Fayum mummy portraits; radiocarbon dating; encaustic paint; multispectral reflectography;
microprofilometry; fibre-optics reflectance spectroscopy; optical coherence tomography
DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/ molecules26175268

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