An Ancient Roman “Where’s Waldo?”

By: The Scribe on Monday, April 15, 2013

(Credit: J. Bianca Jackson, Ph.D. and Dominique Martos-Levif)Advances in scientific technology are making it easier for historians and archaeologists to re-examine things like mummies, works of art, and ancient buildings, in order to look for things they may have missed the first time around—particularly things that are invisible to the naked eye, or hidden by centuries of grime, retouching, or decay.

Recently, archaeologists began using imaging technology much like that found in airport whole-body scanners… and they discovered a hidden face beneath the surface of a Roman wall painting.

The image they found is thought to be thousands of years old, and is literally underneath another famous painting at the Louvre. It’s not weird or strange to find one painting on top of another—plenty famous “master” painters are known to have re-used canvases, covering old paintings with new works or “wiping out” an old painting they weren’t happy with—because it was cheaper or a good way to enhance colors and shapes.

On walls, frescoes—which are paintings made as wet wall plaster is drying, allowing the artist’s paint to seep into the plaster as it sets—fade over time, so it wasn’t unheard of for a building owner to either commission a new work to replace the faded image, or just to have a new painting done if he got bored of the old one.

No one’s quite sure yet who the Roman man is in the image underneath the existing painting—guesses are swirling are to whether it might have been a Roman senator, a self-centered landowner’s portrait, maybe a well-known ruler—but you can be sure that historians are all over this one.

The image they’ve revealed so far with the imaging technology is an eye, nose, and a mouth, and the art style is ancient Roman—pegging its origins at several thousand years old.

So, now that they’ve found a “Waldo”, it’s time to find out who he actually is!


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