Egyptian statuettes of Osiris: production unveiled by neutrons and laser

A group of scientists applied an innovative approach to study Egyptian copper alloy figurines.

The world’s museums exhibit collections of precious artefacts from thousands of years ago. VeryOsiris often it is the case that not much is known about how those ancient artefacts were created. There is a number of limitations to investigate them as traditional sampling techniques risk damaging the materials. In the search for non-invasive methods, a group of scientists have combined three different techniques to analyse copper alloy figurines. They wanted to know how the figurines were crafted, their composition, and how they are deteriorating.

The figurines were provided by the Egyptian Museum of Florence in Italy. They represent Osiris, the god of the afterlife, the underworld and the dead, with arms and legs bound to the body by mummy bandages, and holding the traditional insignias of kingship: the crook and flail.

An innovative analytical approach

To look inside the figurines, the group conducted two different neutron techniques and laser measurements. Thanks to this new approach, these artefacts could be characterised like never before. Even though the figurines are originating from different areas in Egypt the results show that they were all crafted with similar core materials, same alloy compositions, and with a similar method for preparation of the casting mould. The latter was executed starting from forming and firing an earthy core. The wax model for casting was then sculptured on this earthenware core, and eventually the mould was completed with the application of the mantle and the final firing.

This innovative analytical approach proved very successful to analyse ancient artefacts with the big advantage of not being invasive for the artefacts under study. This combination of techniques will be applied to investigate other bronze statuettes of the Egyptian Museum of Florence.

(figure: Osiris figurines. Picture courtesy of the authors.)

Original Publication

J. Anal. At. Spectrom., DOI: 10.1039/C4JA00447G

Thanks to the NMI3 Access programme their travel and subsistence expenses to the neutron source in Germany were covered

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