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January 15, 2021

'Invisible Beauty' at Penn Museum shows archaeology through a new lens

In the exhibit, objects' unseen details are exposed using high-powered microscopes and presented as art

Arts & Culture Museums
'Invisible Beauty' at Penn Museum Janelle Sadarananda and Brigitte Keslinke/Penn Museum

As seen under a microscope, a basalt inclusion in a ceramic tile from the first half of 6th century BCE, from Gordion, in present-day Turkey. The new exhibit 'Invisible Beauty' includes 25 stunning images using high-powered microscopes.

The Penn Museum has a new exhibit opening Saturday that creates art from innovative technologies that researchers use to uncover hidden information about the past.

"Invisible Beauty: The Art of Archaeological Science" features a series of images generated by laboratory instruments and techniques, like by high-powered microscopes and magnetic gradiometry, which allows archaeologists to map what's underground without digging.

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By extracting and analyzing information from artifacts, specimens and landscapes, archaeologists and anthropologists are better able to answer questions related to technology, use, trade, diet, health and the environment of the ancient societies they are studying.

"Many people are familiar with excavations, but they usually aren’t familiar with what happens in the labs, which are not typically accessible to the general public," said Marie-Claude Boileau, co-curator of "Invisible Beauty."

Sarah Linn, the other co-curator, explains that "mundane objects and material, when under a microscope, come to life."

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