A karyatis (singular: Καρυάτις, plural: Καρυάτιδες) is a support column of a temple, in the form of a woman. In ancient times, six karyatides graced the south column gallery on the Erechtheion (Ἐρέχθειον). The Erechtheion served as a temple to Athena Polias, Poseidon, the hero Erichthonius, and perhaps the legendary king Erechtheus. The six statues currently on display on the Erechtheion are copies; five of the statues were removed during restoration of the building, and are now on in the Acropolis Museum in Athens where they are being restored and preserved.

The Archaeology News Network reports that the make-overs of the statues that started in 2011 are well underway, and that the have museum had released images and video of the process and progress. The restoration work is expected to finish in June are is executed by three goggle-wearing conservators making use of custom-designed lasers to burn away soot and grime from the karyatides.

The process is a true marvel of ingenuity. The Network reports that it takes about seven months to cleanse each of the larger than life-sized statues, which were carved around 420 BC. Conservators use a technology developed especially for the Acropolis sculptures, employing two infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths so as to avoid causing discoloration or abrasion, while leaving intact the patina, that orange hue that the statues took on with the passage of centuries.

“The laser beam hits the black crust formed on the surface of the statues over the years, and that absorbs energy and disintegrates,” head conservator Kostas Vassiliadis mentioned. “The crust has a much lower resistance threshold than the marble, which is not affected.”