Image enhancement showed that what was thought to be a hawk carrying an egg is in fact a vulture with a symbol called an ankh.

Image enhancement revealed that this faded painting depicts not a hawk carrying an egg, as previously thought, but a vulture holding a symbol known as an ankh — a rare combination in the art of ancient Egypt. Credit: L. Evans & A. -L. Mourad/J. Archaeol. Sci. Reports

Archaeology

Egyptian tombs depict seldom-seen creatures

Imaging technique reveals painted details lost to time.

Brightly coloured paintings of pigs and other creatures rarely seen in Egyptian art have been found on the walls of ancient tombs by scientists using image-enhancement software.

Detailed depictions of ordinary life adorn 12 tombs at the Beni Hassan cemetery, which sits alongside the Nile River south of Cairo and dates to the period known as the Middle Kingdom, from 2050 to 1650 bc. Hoping to reveal obscured details, Linda Evans and Anna-Latifa Mourad at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, examined the artworks with software that highlights trace pigments.

The software revealed details such as a pig and two bats, which are seldom shown in images from the time of the pharaohs. The technique also revealed a previously unidentified bird to be a vulture clutching a religious symbol in its talons.

The technique could be used to uncover a wealth of hidden detail in the extensive wall paintings of ancient Egypt, the researchers say.