Seti’s sarcophagus: recording and facsimile

Sir John Soane's Museum, London, 2016

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In 2016, Factum Foundation began a project to record and create a facsimile of Seti’s sarcophagus, which is currently located in Sir John Soane’s Museum in London. The project has made possible the close examination and analysis of an object which can usually be viewed only in the confined setting of the crypt on Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and also the recontextualisation of the tomb within a larger facsimile of the Tomb of Seti.

Facsimile of the sarcophagus of Seti I exhibited at 'Scanning Seti: The Regeneration of a Pharaonic Tomb', Antikenmuseum, Basel.


From Luxor to London

Sealed into the main chamber of the tomb, Seti’s sarcophagus was intended as an entryway into the afterlife for the deceased pharaoh. The imposing box is made of Egyptian alabaster, a translucent stone tinged and veined with white, ochre and sienna, and is carved with scenes from the Book of Gates, which describes the passage of the deceased through the Duat (underworld) in the company of the sun god Ra. Stretching beneath the mummy along the floor of the coffin is Nut, the goddess of the sky and the heavens.

In 1817, the tomb’s first excavator Giovanni Battista Belzoni removed the sarcophagus from the tomb and shipped it to London. After an attempted sale to the British Museum fell through, the collector and architect John Soane bought the sarcophagus for £2000, turning it into the centrepiece of his collection in his house on Lincoln’s Inn Fields. In 1825, Soane invited London society to a series of three parties at which lamplight was used to dramatically light the sarcophagus and the crypt in which it was placed. The sarcophagus remains in Sir John Soane’s Museum to this day, and still forms a part of the candlelit tours of the museum which once every month recreate Soane’s original staging of his new acquisition.

In addition to this extreme change in context – it is now as much an artefact of early-19th-century (and subsequent) egyptomania and of the history of collecting practice as it is the memorial of a dead pharaoh - the sarcophagus has undergone substantial material change since its excavation. It no longer houses Seti’s mummy, which is now in the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo. The alabaster, once white, has turned a honey colour through contact with London’s pollution. And the Egyptian blue paste which once filled the carved lines on its surface has fallen out; where traces of blue remain they are mainly 19th-century additions.

Joseph Gandy´s watercolours show the sarcophagus as a white alabaster form with blue inlay


Recording the sarcophagus in Sir John Soane’s Museum

Photogrammetry was used to record the sarcophagus in Sir John Soane’s Museum. Using a motorized rig incorporating a camera and two flashes, over 4500 images were taken over the course of a week using a high-resolution digital camera. This data was then processed using RealityCapture software to create a digital model composed of 2.7 billion polygons.

Manuel Franquelo recording the Seti I sarcophagus - it took the team five days to carry out photogrammetric recording of the entire sarchophagus


Section of the interior of the sarcophagus being recorded with photogrammetry

Manuel Franquelo and Pedro Miró from Factum Arte recording the sarcophagus of Seti I at the Sir John Soane´s Museum

The interior of the sarcophagus of Seti I

Poor conservation and climate has changed the sarcophagus´ appearance over time

The 3D render of the sarcophagus was shown at the Sir John Soane Museum in the 2017 exhibition Discovering Seti’s Sarcophagus, 200 Years On.


Making the facsimile

Making the facsimile of the sarcophagus involved two main processes. Firstly the overall shape of the box was routed in sections in high-density polyurethane using a 7-axis CNC robot and joined together by hand.

Secondly, the surface was printed out on skins and attached in sections to the routed form. The skins were printed using the elevated printing technique developed by Océ – A Canon Company, in which UV-cured ink can be used to print out a low-relief surface at high-resolution. The maximum depth to which Océ prints is usually 5mm, but a combined effort on the part of Océ and Factum engineers enabled the printing of sheets up to 15mm thick for this project. It was also necessary for Factum’s engineers to manipulate the relief information provided to Océ using a variety of algorithms in order to create skins which could be fitted to the 3D routed form.

Example of pieces from one of the exterior flanks of the sarcophagus, in strips adapted to the shapes obtained by means of physical modelling in acetate. Checking the plates prior to adhesion to the polyurethane base.

Process of gluing the plates to the exterior of the sarcophagus. Here a total of nine Océ plates were fixed to the base.

Allowing for re-printing where corrections were needed, the process of fitting the skins to the routed box took six weeks. The surface was finished by hand, with the joints between skins retouched using an acrylic putty which was blended using a mixture of watercolour and acrylic paint. The facsimile was then finished with natural wax in imitation of the sheen of alabaster.

Removing the protective covers and reintegration by means of acrylic putty and re-touching with paint.

Colour reintegration and retouching. The filled joints need to be integrated into the surface.

The sarcophagus was shown next to the facsimiles of Rooms I and J from Seti’s tomb at the exhibition Scanning Seti: The Regeneration of a Pharaonic Tomb at the Antikenmuseum Basel, and in the exhibition Images of Egypt at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo. It will form part of future installations of the tomb facsimile.

Facsimile of the sarcophagus of Seti I exhibited at 'Scanning Seti: The Regeneration of a Pharaonic Tomb', Antikenmuseum, Basel.


Recording and rematerialising the missing fragments of the Tomb of Seti I

In addition to the recording of the sarcophagus of Seti I, we are carrying out systematic scans of those elements that were originally part of the tomb and are now scattered in different museums and collections around the world. The recording of these elements will be used to rematerialize them to be reinserted in the facsimile, which will offer the unique opportunity to appreciate and understand the tomb in a state that is in a way more complete than the original. This is one of the great potentials that facsimiles can offer to the visitors: the chance of visiting an important monument with additional layers of information to improve the experience a path that was already explored in the facsimile of the Tomb of Tutankhamun, where it is possible to see the recreation of the missing fragment of the South wall.

In September 2018, a team from Factum Foundation carried out the photogrammetric recording of eleven shabti statuettes from the tomb of Seti I. These statuettes are part of the permanent collection of the Museo Civico Archeologico of Bologna (MCABo). The information recorded has been included in a virtual rendition of Giovanni Battista Belzoni's 1821 exhibition at the Egyptian Hall in London, a digital monograph part of the Brown University digital publishing initiative, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This was the first step toward a future collaboration to preserve and enhance the MCA's Egyptian collection.

Ten of the eleven digitised statuettes are made of wood and one of faïence. Highly artistic in quality and larger in size, the latter shows the sovereign with the regal nemes headdress, the usekh pectoral as well as wide bracelets on his wrists, dotted with cobalt blue on a ground lapis lazuli. These shabtis, discovered in 1817 by Belzoni in the pharaoh’s tomb along with hundreds of other specimens, were created to be resuscitated magically through the formula written on their bodies - Chapter 6 of the Book of the Dead - responding to their owner (shabti means “answerer”) and standing in his stead in the agricultural work of the afterlife. The weeding hoes in the ruler’s hands and the sack for seeds on his shoulders served this purpose.

One Shabti statuette made of faïence, recorded at the Museo Civico Archeologico of Bologna (MCABo) in September 2018 © Factum Foundation

Fragment of wall decoration: Fragment (066x760 mm.) of brightly painted, finely grained limestone preserves part of a hieroglyphic inscription from the tomb of Seti I. The glyphs, arranged vertically, are painted in green, black and red on dull yellow ground

Portion of face of Seti I (890x120 mm.); face in deep red; details in black; light colored and fine-grained stone

This fragment (303x950 mm.) of brightly painted, finely grained limestone preserves part of a figure from the tomb of Seti I. The fragment shows part of the torso of the king or a god, painted red, wearing a multi-colored belt, against a yellow background

This fragment (155x143 mm.) of brightly painted, finely grained limestone preserves part of a hieroglyphic inscription from the tomb of Seti I. The glyphs, arranged vertically, are painted in green, black and red on dull yellow ground

Carlos Bayod (Factum Arte), scanning a fragment with the Lucida 3D Scanner in September 2016 at the Boston

Shelves with the eight missing fragments recorded at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts


Fragment of cavetto cornice: This fragment (152x222 mm.) of brightly painted, finely grained limestone preserves part of a cavetto cornice from the tomb of Seti I. The conventional ornament is painted in white, olive, blue-green, and dull red, with black lines for borders

Fragment of a head of a King: This fragment (187x178 mm) of brightly painted, finely grained limestone preserves part of a figure of the king, faing right, from the tomb of Seti I. The fragment shows a portion of the king?s face, his ear, and part of his nemes headdress. The skin is painted red, wit

3D renders of the eight fragments scanned with the Lucida Scanner

Fragment tests, routed on the CNC milling machine, materialised at the Factum Arte warehouse

Rematerialised fragment tests of the elements recorded with the Lucida 3D Scanner by Carlos Bayod at the Boston MFA in September 2016



You can download a comprehensive report on the making of the facsimile here


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