Making the Facsimile

Factum Arte finished the facsimile of Tutankhamun's tomb at the end of 2010 but everything in Egypt has its own dynamic. One day onions the next honey as Theo Abt always says. At the start of 2011 it was clear that things were changing. A strange meeting with Zahi Hawass was followed a few weeks later by the events in Tahir Square and the resignation of Mubarak. As a result the facsimile of the burial chamber sat in one of our workshops and our work to document the tomb of Nefertari and Seti I was put on hold bringing to a temporary end to the attempts we have been making to demonstrate how new technologies and facsimiles can become part of a coherent approach to help in the preservation of the Valley of the Kings. An approach that aims to turn the millions of tourists from a destructive presence into a pro-active force assisting conservation.

Colour matching at Tutankhamun's tomb in 2009.

As spring turned to summer it was clear that there was a problem in the facsimile as the PapelGel transfer started to peel from the surface. In all new technical works there is an element of risk and unknown factors and the gradual peeling resulted in an intense scrutiny of the surface of the facsimile. The PapelGel transfer system has many advantages and used in the right way it has an important role to play. But as we studied the surface it was clear that the peeling was not the only problem - the resolution of the printed image was lacking information in the mid tones and a crispness. With raking light it was possible to observe mis-registrations between the surface relief and the image. When this happens the subtle relief data conflicts with the printed information and the eye, while not always being able to identify why, is aware that something is wrong.

In 'Factum' style the awareness of problems provoked action. We decided that there had to be a way to make a printable 'skin' that could be positioned and integrated with the surface using a pressure sensitive contact adhesive and a vacuum. Over a period of months, from the first emulsion made by Rafa Rachewsky to the development of a concoction of flexible materials by Silvia Rosende, we gradually developed a fine flexible skin that could be printed with a high resolution image, accurately positioned and adhered to the surface in its exact position. In November 2011 we started removing the original transfer material, in January we began the application of the 'skins' and by April most of the tomb had been replaced. Hopefully the adhesion is now more stable and tests are being carried out to confirm this.

It is this desire to push the boundries and not to accept defeat, nor consider cost, that has resulted in the quality of the facsimiles that Factum Arte makes. The innovations that we have made during the production of the tomb of Tutankhamun are evidence of this. They are innovations that have already been applied to other works.

The facsimile of the burial chamber and sarcophagus of Tutankhamun

After recording the tomb of Tutankhamun during the first half of 2009, the team returned to Madrid and began work on the different phases of the production of the facsimile. The intricate process includes adjusting the high resolution photographic and 3D data, routing tests and detailed colour matching with the samples taken from the tomb. Below you will find a photographic display of the stages of the work as it progressed.

Seti laser scanner (version 2) recording in the Tomb of Tutankhamun, May 2009.

Routed output from the standard 3D scanning test (data from the new Metris scanner), routed in 3 dimensions at a resolution of 100 microns.

Routed output from the standard 3D scanning test (data from the new Metris scanner), routed in 3 dimensions at a resolution of 100 microns.

Tutankhamun/Osiris: 3D data from the Seti scanner.

Tutankhamun/Osiris: Dara from the Seti scanner routed in three dimensions.

Tutankhamun/Osiris: routed surface with colour (before colour correction).

Image preparation

Factum Arte's Pedro Miró going through scanned data of the tomb.

Creating a map of the tomb from 3D and colour data.

Blanca Nieto working on the "stitching" process: adjusting the photographic data to the 3D data.

This part of the process requieres great attention to detail in precision adjustments.

Factum Arte's Rafa Rachewsky carrying out colour matching tests.

Colour references made while working in the tomb.

Colour is adjusted refering to the colour samples taken in the tomb.

Preparing 3D data for routing

Physical fabrication

Factum Arte's Juan Carlos Arias and Pedro Miró carrying out routing of a one meter section of the surface of the tomb of Tutankhamun in low-density polyurethane resin.

Raking light helps checking the surface of the 3D routing

Aniuska Martín casting a corner of the sarcophagus from routed dat

After several weeks of routing, tiles are assembled at Factum Arte"s warehouse

Progress in Factum Arte"s warehouse, mid-February 2010

Reference map of the tomb"s north wall

All the joins have been retouched precisely before the wall is newly separated

Steel wire is used to cut through the 3 inch thick surface

Image preparation

The routing of the walls of the Tomb of Tutankhamun was completed on March 24th 2010. They were then assembled into sections, all joins retouched, moulded in silicon and cast in a resin with a rigid backing structure.

The first transfer was subcontracted to PapelGel in spring 2011. By the end of the year it was starting to show signs of detaching from the wall. The cause was identified as being a layer of plaster on the surface and the desire of the elastic transfer material to shrink back to a flat sheet. The south wall was fully cleaned before the transfer was applied but the problem still occurred (to a lesser degree but it also showed a tendency to detach from the surface).

As the situation in Egypt became increasingly complicated, the delivery of the tomb was delayed. Fortunately the events in Egypt since then have created a sense of optimism and hope. The extra time we had to finish the facsimile turned out to be necessary. During 2011 the original transfer continued to flake off the wall. Despite attempts to consolidate the surface it was finally decided, in the summer of 2011 that the colour transfer should be repeated. During the intervening months, while we were working on the production of the facsimile of Map of Bologna we found our own way to apply high resolution printed colour to an undulating surface- the result was a thin elastic membrane that can be printed with a full gamut with almost no dot gain. The registration between print and relief is critical and we felt that a "transfer" method was not an ideal approach. Once the decision was made to repeat the colour application we also focused our efforts to make an even thinner membrane that printed even better. We finally achieved the product we wanted in 2012 - a very thin elastic material that could be applied directly to the surface, that prints without significant image loss and whose sheen can be controlled before and after application. The material is positioned exactly in place by hand and temporally held using a low contact adhesive. Once positioned the entire panel is put into a vacuum bag and the adhesive is cured under pressure. The result exceeded all expectations. There was also a significant improvement in print quality that has resulted in a much closer correspondence between the facsimile and the tomb.

The sarcophagus was made in resin in 2011. It was then coloured to match the original during 2011 and 2012- the added time has resulted in a greatly improved result.

The sarcophagus lid was made is scagliola in 2011.

The missing section that was identified in a photograph by Harry Burton in the Griffith Institute, with the help of Jaromir Malek, was reconstructed at full size and in colour. It will be integrated into the facsimile.

The missing section that was identified in a photograph by Harry Burton in the Griffith Institute, with the help of Jaromir Malek, was reconstructed at full size and in colour. It will be integrated into the facsimile.

Coating Papelgel transfer material with white acrylic gesso.

Elasticity of the material

Stretching material to fit features on the surface

Positioning the material

Cutting join

Progress of the north wall in Papel Gel, May 2010


Visible cracks and flaking in PapelGel"s colour transfer on North and West walls

Careful cleaning of the routed surface


Factum Arte"s team positioning the new flexible material, a careful process done by hand

Once the elastic material is placed in perfect register, a vacuum bag allows the adhesive to cure

Resolution of the original transfer.

Resolution of the same detail printed on Factum Arte"s flexible skin.

Direct comparison between transfer on the right and flex skin on the left reveals clear improvement in colour as well as in stability.

This video shows several processes during the making of the facsimile: "stitching" (colour and 3D registration), printing, routing and direct application.

The lid of Tutankhamun"s sarcophagus.


Factum Arte"s Jimena Katoo retouching the joins on the West wall.

East wall - showing one of our joins that will be retouched after the final installation.

North wall.

South wall - equal attention is paid to the whole surface.

East wall - note the particular type of decay in the black paint.

A detail showing the accurate texture of the surface of the facsimile that corresponds to the surface of the tomb.


Several views of the finished facsimile.
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