Imaging techniques for microanalysis of Paleolithic mobiliary art

Notre article sur la comparaison des techniques d’imagerie pour l’étude du mobilier Paléolithique est paru !

Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports

Volume 10, December 2016, Pages 903–909

Comparison of imaging techniques used in the microanalysis of Paleolithic mobiliary art

  • Nicolas Mélard,
  • Clotilde Boust
  • Gabrielle Cogné,
  • Anne Maigret

Archaeologists have been interested in the survey and analysis of mobile works of Paleolithic art since their discovery during excavations in the 19th century.

Examples of mobile art — made of stone, bone, antler, ivory or clay — are often found as weathered fragments with surface wear that makes the reading of these objects difficult. Since the 19th century, archaeologists have used photography, direct tracing, and oblique light to decipher the marks of the artists. Modern tools and techniques for analysis have continued to evolve. Since the early 1980s, optical and electron microscopy have been used in the analysis of the finest traces. From the 1990s on, 3D laser scanning (30 years after its invention) has been used in all fields of archaeological research. Many techniques followed, quickly evolving.

Today, we face an explosion of the techniques in the field, which offer more and more precision and rapidity that can be useful in archaeological research if applied in the service of well-reasoned lines of inquiry.

This study focuses on two engraved bones from the Magdalenian period. The main aim of the study was to understand the objects, their history and role in the prehistoric context, and their means of production. Ultimately this study informed the conservation, handling, and interpretation of the objects in the museum environment.

A secondary result of the study is an evaluation of the means of analysis in research on cultural heritage. Over the years many objects have been the subject of high-resolution digital photography, infrared photography, ultra-violet photography, RTI, digital microscopy, and microtopographical scans based on axial chromatism.

The feedback of our experience of ten years of 3D approaches provides insight into the evolution of devices and software, and indicates which innovations are of the most value to the field of archaeological study and how their use in combination may yield optimal results.


  • Paleolithic;
  • Mobile art;
  • Archaeoscience;
  • Engravings;
  • 3D scanning;
  • Digital microscopy;
  • Technology