Strange Science: Medical Technology Informing Artifact Analysis

Equestrian figurine; by Bankoni culture; Museo de Arte Africano Arellano AlonsoMedical technology can be used for a multitude of applications, including helping art historians and archaeologists learn more about artifacts. Recently, five pieces of art held by the Art Institute of Chicago were imaged using axial tomography, known to most people as CT scanning. The 3-D image created by this form of imaging showed that the five terracotta sculptures, known as the Bankoni figures, based on the location where they were found in present-day Mali, were created from the same clay and with the same methods. This information strongly suggests that the five figures were made as a set, likely by a single artist.

In addition to information about the maker of these figures, the CT scanning also allowed scientists to pinpoint the date when they were created more closely, to somewhere between 500 and 800 years ago, which makes them older than previously realized. As this article states, “These types of collaborations between museums and hospitals have expanded the conservator’s toolkit by giving them access to the most advanced technologies and to equipment that would be otherwise unavailable. Their medical partners’ specialized knowledge guarantees that conservators have the best instrumental protocol available to find answers to their questions and that the results will be interpreted accurately.”

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