SEAHA Centre for Doctoral Training


The Mobile Heritage Lab helps school students play art detective at Wilberforce Primary

29 June 2018


On Thursday 7th June the Mobile Heritage Lab headed west at the invitation of Wilberforce Primary in Queens Park.

Pupils in Years 3-6 took on the role of ‘art detectives’ investigating our Fayum portrait; a style familiar to some pupils through their study of Egyptian history. Their task was to identify the artist; was it an original repaired by an art restorer or perhaps the work of forgers?

potential artists by Josep Grau-Bove

Our potential artists imagined by SEAHA’s own artist Josep Grau-Bove


We demonstrated using real examples, that despite appearances some paintings are forged and sought to show how we can apply science to provide evidence in questionable cases.

Pupils used a UV torch, thermal imaging camera, and optical microscope to identify hidden writing, fingerprints, and even analysed some stray threads carelessly snagged on the painting from the artist’s clothing. Putting all the evidence together they concluded that it was indeed the work of a forger.

“It was amazing!  Inside the lab we tested material but my favourite bit was when we used the UV lighting to check whether the painting had any hidden names or secrets on it.” Audrey, Year 3

“It was so cool – literally! We got to use a thermal imaging camera and see how it uses heat, or not.” Raima, Year 5

Fayum or forgery

Clockwise from top: Gavin demonstrating thermal imaging, Jenny and Josep identifying fibres under the microscope, Natalie revealing hidden text with UV and Rose identifying the artist’s fingerprints.


As heritage scientists we are also aware of the monetary and cultural values of heritage. We introduced this through a final query of what to do with a forged painting? Pupils eagerly shared their opinions and debated their peers proposals; some felt it was useful to keep it to educate others, and was a good example of our forger’s skill, whilst some entrepreneurial students were keen to sell it on anyway!

I think it’s fair to say a great day was had by all, the children were genuinely a delight to be around, and were full of infectious enthusiasm and inquisitive questions. Hopefully we’ve met some future heritage scientists from Wilberforce, those qualities are just what we need!

wilberforces-primary school-staff-and-pupils

Wilberforce’s staff and pupils including Mark Jackson, Head of Science with visitor Prof Joanne Cassar, and Rose King, SEAHA Student.



Header Image: Research in the Mobile Heritage Lab. Credit: Mark Jackson, Wilberforce Primary School.