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The first stage is a detailed examination of the coffin surface, often using a stereomicroscope with magnification up to about ×60, and a raking light to show up surface relief.

Features of interest are recorded photographically using ultraviolet light to help locate organic coatings such as varnishes and clarify areas of restoration, and infrared radiation to reveal carbon-based pigments below the surface (e.g., in underdrawings). Visible-light induced luminescence (VIL) captures the infrared fluorescence of the pigment Egyptian blue.

Fibre optic reflectance spectroscopy (FORS) and X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (XRF) allow non-destructive identification of pigments without the need to remove samples. Further information can be obtained from tiny samples, analysed using polarised light microscopy (PLM), X-ray powder diffraction (XRD) and Raman spectroscopy. The layer structure of the decoration is visible on cross-section samples viewed under high magnification. Analysis of these samples in a scanning electron microscope with energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDX) locates the various inorganic pigments.

Original varnishes and resins on the coffins are identified from tiny samples using Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), which reveals the general character of the material, allowing, for example, differentiation between tree resins and sugary gums. Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS) is used to identify all the individual molecular components of the material so that its botanical origin can be determined.

X-radiography and computed tomography (CT) scanning reveal construction methods hidden below the surfaces of coffins, and scanning electron microscopy is used to identify all the different woods employed.