An Algorithm Revealed 200 Lost Paintings on Angkor Wat's Ancient Walls

Illustration for article titled An Algorithm Revealed 200 Lost Paintings on Angkor Wat's Ancient Walls

Even a building as famous and photographed as Angkor Wat has its secrets. With the help of an image enhancement algorithm, a sharp-eyed rock-art researcher has revealed that unassuming smears of pigment are actually faded drawings. It could be graffiti—or it could be the remnants of a concerted 16th century restoration program.

Noel Hidalgo Tan, a rock-art researcher from Australia, was working on an excavation at Angkor Wat in 2010 when bits of the red pigment caught his eye. He took some photos with a bright flash. Then he put his photos through through decorrelation stretch analysis, which exaggerate the color contrast. The technique is commonly used to enhance rock art as well as NASA's Opportunity Rover's Martian landscapes.

All of a sudden, monkeys, elephants, boats, and buildings leapt out from the walls. Tan eventually found 200 of these paintings all over the temple. Most of the paintings appear haphazardly, most likely the handiwork of early pilgrims.


But one particular stretch on the highest tier in Angkor Wat's central tower features elaborate scenes with musical instruments and people on horseback. These scenes may be more deliberate attempts to redecorate the temple when it transitioned from a Hindu temple to a Buddhist pilgrimage site, says Tan. These once hidden paintings could reveal secrets of their own. [Antiquity via Livescience, Science]

Top image via Antiquity/Tan et al.

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Epic. I need to borrow that algorithm to find the frescoes that are under the paint in my house.