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These 16th-Century Carvings Are So Intricate Researchers Used X-Rays To Reveal Their Secrets

These astonishing trinkets are miniature boxwood carvings. There are only around 135 of them in the world, and they’ve puzzled art specialists around the world for centuries, as they’re so tiny.

Recently, researchers have gathered the tiny carved items, usually prayer beads and medallions, to find out once and for all how their unbelievably intricate carvings were crafted, using the latest technology.


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The boxwood carvings have religious scenes and icons carved into them, as you can see in the detailed interior of the prayer bead below.

It’s thought that all the carvings were made by one or two workshops in Flanders, Netherlands, between 1500 and 1530.


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They’re all made from a single boxwood fragment, held together with pins smaller than a grass seed. Wealthy people in the 16th Century would have spent a lot of money on these high-quality religious ornaments.


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Scientists used micro CT scanning and Advanced 3D Analysis Software to examine the miniatures in never-before-seen detail, and uncovered new subject matter that had never been spotted before.


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The inner layers of larger pieces, like this triptych,  are pieced together with the joints hidden so neatly that only an X-ray can detect them.


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However, traces of gold and other decoration materials that have long since faded sadly obscured X-ray views, so much of the process of making these boxwood carvings remains a mystery.


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But there’s no denying their unusual beauty, and it’s hard to believe these incredible items were made more than 400 years ago!


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The items went out of fashion toward the end of the 16th Century, so the Dutch workshops stopped making them.


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But 135 pieces of their work remain in museums around the world, and you can see them in a new exhibition touring throughout 2017. See the dates here.


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You can find out more about the boxwood carvings in the video below.


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