The Parthenon Marbles, also known as the Elgin Marbles, currently displayed at London’s British Museum, appear at first glance as white marble.
But like many ancient sculptures, they were once full of color, Smithsonian Magazine reported.
Now, a new study has used a novel method to discover a “wealth of surviving paint” initially used 2,500 years ago.
A research team analyzed the marbles at a microscopic level using luminescent imagining, a non-invasive technique that detects traces of Egyptian blue – a pigment of calcium, copper and silicon.
They found evidence of Egyptian blue on 11 pedimental sculptures and one figure, including on the belt of the Greek Goddess Iris and on the crests of waves from which the God Helios emerges.
The analysis also showed evidence of white and purple pigments, with the researchers noting that the ancient carvers were very meticulous in mimicking the textures they were trying to depict, such as skin or linen.
Still, the team said that their findings could not create a full reconstruction of the what Parthenon sculptures originally looked like.
Even so, the study could help historians have a better understanding of ancient art, according to lead author Giovanni Verri.
“As we try to understand the ancient world, we inevitably try to simplify the picture,” he told Newsweek, “but this proves that the ancient world was more complex and diverse than we would like to believe.”