Hundreds of "Hidden" Paintings Discovered at Angkor Wat

Illustration for article titled Hundreds of "Hidden" Paintings Discovered at Angkor Wat

More than 200 paintings adorning the walls of the massive, 12th Century Cambodian temple Angkor Wat were discovered hiding in plain sight, after Noel Hidalgo Tan, a rock-art researcher at Australian National University in Canberra, noticed traces of red paint on the walls of the religious monument.

Photo Credit: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen via Wikimedia Commons

Angkor Wat sees millions of visitors every year. How did the murals manage to go unnoticed for so long? Simply put: They were hard to see. The traces of pigment spotted by Tan – an expert – were difficult to spot in the first place, and basically impossible to make heads or tails of with the naked eye. So he uploaded the images to his computer. Using a technique called decorrelation stretch analysis (widely employed in the study of pictographs, and used by NASA to study photos of Mars), he was able to "stretch" (i.e. enhance, or exaggerate) subtle color-differences in his photographs, bringing the faded colors of the murals into clear, unambiguous view. Via LiveScience:

Illustration for article titled Hundreds of "Hidden" Paintings Discovered at Angkor Wat
Illustration for article titled Hundreds of "Hidden" Paintings Discovered at Angkor Wat

Photo Credit: Antiquity, Tan et al.

The digitally enhanced pictures revealed paintings of elephants, lions, the Hindu monkey god Hanuman, boats and buildings — perhaps even images of Angkor Wat itself.

One chamber in the highest tier of Angkor Wat's central tower, known as the Bakan, contains an elaborate scene [pictured above] of a traditional Khmer musical ensemble known as the pinpeat, which is made up of different gongs, xylophones, wind instruments and other percussion instruments. In the same chamber, there's an intricate scene featuring people riding horses between two structures, which might be temples.

Read more about the discovery at Angkor Wat over on LiveScience. For more on the theory, history and utility of decorrelation stretch analysis, see here.

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Dstretch is an amazing tool. I have colleagues who use it for the the documentation and preservation of rock art and rock art sites here in Alberta. We recently introduced the method to a research group that works in Pompeii after being shown some very faded painted murals from on of the larger housing complexes there. Hopefully some interesting images and knowledge will come of that!