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CNN  — 

Classical Greek marble sculptures today appear crisp and white. But they weren’t always that way, according to a new study, which found the famous 2,500-year-old Parthenon sculptures were colorful, painted with floral patterns and other elaborate designs.

By using a noninvasive imaging technique, researchers at the British Museum — where nearly half of the sculptures reside — and King’s College London found traces of paint on 11 out of 17 figures and from a section of frieze on show in the museum, according to a study published this week in the journal Antiquity.

Paint often does not survive on archaeological finds, particularly in cases such as the Parthenon sculptures that date back to between 447 and 438 BC and were continuously exposed to the environment, said lead study author Dr. Giovanni Verri, a conservation scientist at the Art Institute of Chicago who previously was a fellow at the British Museum.