Recording & rematerialising the Sarcophagus of Seti I

Sir John Soane Museum, London - 2016

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Recording and rematerialising the Sarcophagus of Seti I
The project

The Sarcophagus of Seti I, that once lay at the heart of the ancient Pharaoh’s tomb in Luxor for millennia, was sculpted from semi-translucent Egyptian alabaster. The alabaster, which was once white, turned a honey colour through contact with London’s pollution. The surface is covered with relief carving that previously infilled with Egyptian blue paint and which has fallen out due to time and over-vigorous cleaning. The carvings come from the Book of Gates, and span the interior and exterior surfaces of the sarcophagus, culminating in the imposing image of the goddess Nut carved into the coffin’s floor.

Discovered in Seti’s tomb in 1817 by Giovanni Battista Belzoni, the sarcophagus was removed along with significant sections of the decorations that covered the walls. The hundreds of fragments are now in museums and collections around the world, such as the Musée du Louvre and Florence’s Archelogical Museum; Seti’s sarcophagus was brought to London and sold to form part of the collection of Sir John Soane in 1824.

Recording the sarcophagus

The photogrammetric recording of the sarcophagus at Soane’s museum was carried out over a five-day period in March 2016 by Pedro Miró and Manuel Franquelo from Factum Arte, together with Ferdinand Saumarez-Smith from Factum Foundation, marking the start of the project to record all the dispersed fragments. This was also the first stage of the Theban Necropolis Preservation Initiative: a collaboration between the Ministry of Antiquities (Egypt), Factum Foundation (Spain), and the University of Basel (Switzerland), with contribution from Autodesk and Capturing Reality as well as generous financial support through donations. This multi-year outreach program, launched in 2014, is an ambitious approach to preserve the tombs of the Theban Necropolis in the Valley of the Kings, through high-resolution facsimiles, with the Tomb of Tutankhamen having already been successfully installed.

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

Working in the confined space of the museum’s crypt, over 4,500 images were taken with a high-resultion digital camera. The team employed a motorised rig comprised of a camera and two flashes. The data was processed using the Reality Capture software, the only photogrammetry software able to process this number of high-resolution images - the output was a digital model composed of 2.7 billion polygons.

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

3D Render of the Seti I sarcophagus

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

Rematerialising the sarcophagus

Factum has developed a variety of specialist methods and techniques that allow for the reproduction of the most diverse materials. In this case, we used a method which combined CNC routing with a seven-axis robot together with Océ’s elevated printing technique (which prints thousands of layers each consisting of a depth of about 5 microns being printed on top of one another resulting in a colour print with a physical body). Océ’s new printer with UV cured ink can produce a 3D surface that is about 1.5 cm in depth and with dimensions up to 2.4 x 1.4 meters. The maximum thickness of their plates is usually 5mm, but a combined effort on the part of Océ and Factum engineers has enabled the printing of sheets up to 1.5 cm thick specifically for this project.

Using this elevated printing technology, sheets of the sarcophagus relief were mapped onto the 3D routed form. The result of combining these two technologies was a copy that perfectly registered the colour and relief of the sarcophagus’s surface. Engineers at Factum employed a variety of algorithms together in order to prepare the relief data for 3D printing. As the bas-relief decorations extended over curved surfaces, the relief information had to be manipulated in accordance with this. In order to facilitate this process, prior to printing the files, the Factum team produced outlines in acetate which allowed them to test each piece on the routed sarcophagus in a process similar to making a large 3D jigsaw puzzle.

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.

Next, the production of the sarcophagus could begin in earnest. The Factum team began with the sides of the sarcophagus attaching the Océ 3D prints to the routed model. During this process, as the next batch of files were being prepared, errors in this first batch were corrected and reprinted in an effective system of trial-and-error. The prints were glued to the model using an ‘Araldite’ epoxy resin which took 24 hours to cure. During this period, they were held in place using a system of screws and washers due to the impossibility of using clamps

This whole process took 6 weeks, and was followed by manual retouching of the joins using an acrylic putty that was then blended with a mixture of watercolour and acrylic paint. The replica was finished with natural wax which sought to imitate the varied gloss of the original alabaster. The production of the replica involved innovation, adaption, and trial-and-error.

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 mixture of mapping and photogrammetry software made the separation of the surface and the skin impossible. The elevated printing technology developed by Océ allowed the Factum team to overcome this barrier without any loss of information. The technology is always dependent on skilled people who understand materials and the way they can be manipulated. This approach is capable of helping to preserve, archive, share and study the world’s heritage.

The resultant facsimile was completed in time to form part of the exhibition Scanning Seti: The Regeneration of a Pharaonic Tomb, that ran from October 2017 to May 2018 at the Antikenmuseum in Basel, and hopes to take centre stage in the proposed large-scale facsimile of the entire tomb of Seti I.

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


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