Hyperspectral imaging reveals secrets behind artwork and artefacts

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A hyperspectral project has been underway to analyse some of the world's most treasured paintings, artefacts, and documents. This project involved collaboration between conservators at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston, USA, and the application engineering team at Headwall Photonics.

Utilising Headwall's large-format Hyperspec Scanning System which is specifically designed for museums and libraries, artwork and antequities were scanned with Hyperspec sensors for both the VNIR (visible- near-infrared) and SWIR (short wave infrared) spectral ranges.

The benefit of using dual sensors is that a particular artefact or document can be thoroughly scanned across the VNIR and SWIR range, yielding a wealth of valuable and never-before-seen spectral information relative to pigments, inks, materials, and features. Classifying this spectral data gives collection-care experts around the world new insight into the valuable assets they manage.

‘For the purpose of cultural preservation, hyperspectral imaging offers conservators the ability to analyse and assess the current state of the historical objects over time,’ said Headwall engineering director, Peter Clemens. With both vertical and horizontal scanning system orientations possible, and the use of non-destructive illumination, conservators can utilise hyperspectral imaging to provide additional analysis of artefacts and antiquities that may hold answers to long-held secrets and cultural insights.

During the project collaboration with Boston's MFA conservators, the Headwall engineers scanned a wide range of objects including famous paintings, a Mayan vase, wood block prints, a chessboard, and a marble relief sculpture. Hyperspectral sensing is applicable not just for flat art such as paintings and documents, but for pottery and other artefacts as well. Scanning of an important Mayan vase yielded the presence of cracks never before seen allowing for better preservation steps for the valuable piece.

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