The discovery's 90th Anniversary

The 4th of November 2012 was the 90th anniversary of the discovery of the first signs that would lead Howard Carter to discover the Tomb of Tutankhamun. Coincidentally the European Union arranged a major Task Force Business and Tourism Summit in Cairo to define and complete a wide ranging programme of support for Egypt.

To celebrate the anniversary of the discovery of the Tomb and to provide a positive focus for the Task Force, Factum Foundation sent the facsimile of the Burial Chamber to Cairo to be included in the EU event that took place on 13th and 14th November. The Facsimile is being given to the Arab Republic of Egypt and, in line with the announcements made Egypt's Supreme Council on Antiquities in 2010, the aim is to install it in a site that has been designated near Carter's house at the entrance to the Valley of the Kings.

Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun the 4th of November 1922. Credit: Griffith Institute

On November 4th 1922 Howard Carter discovered evidence of the existence of a tomb near the entrance to KV9. During the month of November he cleared the way to a sealed doorway. On 25th November, the sealed doorway at the entrance of the tomb was photographed. News spread rapidly and the discovery caught the imagination of the world. A few days later the Antechamber was opened revealing "wonderful things". It took until the 17th February 1923 before they had accurately recorded all the objects in the antechamber and were ready to open the next sealed door. Within minutes of opening a hole in the wall it was clear that Lard Carnarvon and Howard Carter had discovered an unrobbed royal burial chamber. Since that moment the young Tutankhamun has emerged from obscurity and captured the public imagination, The tomb and its treasures are now amongst the most celebrated cultural artifacts in the world and the stories that surround them continue to inspire generations with the magic of pharaonic Egypt - attracting thousands of visitors every year to the Cairo Museum, the tomb in the Valley of the Kings and various exhibitions of original objects and copies that are touring the world - adding to the celebrity and drawing tourists to Egypt.

The creation of the facsimile was the culmination of many years of effort by Adam Lowe who founded and directs Factum Arte and Theo Abt (of the Society of Friends of the Royal Tombs) working under the auspices of the University of Basel (a license to work in the tombs can only be granted to an institution of learning). In Spring 2009 the burial chamber and sarcophagus in the tomb of Tutankhamun were fully recorded at the highest resolution ever achieved on a large-scale. Between the Summers of 2009 and 2011 all the stages of the work were perfected and an exact facsimile of the tomb was completed. The data that was used to make the facsimile is currently being used to monitor and accurately record the decay that is taking place in the tomb. The story of the recording, processing and eventual creation are explained in the Tutankhamun Project page - the adventure of travelling to Cairo and the importance of this is what we will explain here.

The Beginning Of The Final Trip To Egypt

Factum was contacted by the EU (by Bernadino Leon, Baroness Ashton's head of cabinet and Raquel Cabrera who were behind the scenes organisers of everything) in September and began preparations though still waiting for a firm go ahead which was only received in mid-October. Immediately plans were put into effect, packing materials and cases were ordered, the structure of the facsimile was tested in the warehouse and parts made up.

The facsimile in the warehouse in Madrid being dismantled.

The AssemblyContact was made with the Conrad Hotel in Cairo where a space was allocated in the entrance area, outside but under cover - perfect. A truss and many other details were designed and ordered and Pastfinders in Cairo was engaged to act as the on the ground team. Hotel rooms were booked, fork lift trucks hired, carpenters engaged and the team assembled.

The Assembly

The vast and beautifully made packing cases (in all around 40 cubic metres - each one with the contents noted and on each side a copy of the cartouche of Tutankhamun) left Madrid on November 3rd bound for Ostend (freight planes to Cairo do not leave from every airport and the boxes had to be flown as the sea voyage would take too long so two highway trucks drove through the night to Ostend). The Minister of Tourism of Egypt, Mohammed Zaazou, arranged the passage and the packing cases were consigned to EU care on arrival so that the boxes effectively travelled in the diplomatic pouch - courtesy of James Moran - the EU Ambassador to Egypt. On arrival the cargo was taken by truck through the extraordinary traffic of Cairo and the boxes placed in front of the hotel. Rain is rare in Cairo but the team had to work fast to get everything unpacked and in place just in case.

The assembly of an object such as this is a very complex process - it weighs over three tons and the ceiling another ton so the truss structure had to be both very strong but also as discrete as possible as there was limited space and the outside appearance was to be shrouded only in a very simple calico covered structure - rather like a desert camp.

The calico covering on the outside of the structure.

The truss on which the facsimile ceiling and walls were anchored.

The assembly process

Finishing touches - Michael Roberts, Adam Lowe, Eduardo Corrales, Javi Barreno.

The team had three days from the material's arrival to the presentation of the completed facsimile - to be opened by Baroness Ashton - the EU High Representative - and the Egyptian Minister for Tourism. So, a very firm deadline. The materials delivered were almost all that was needed but there are always snags that need resolution - so forays to wood street and duct tape street and blackout material street were made - Cairo has a wonderful almost medieval structure that still defines streets by the wares sold there. Very long days and very short nights saw the team of six finish the task at 4.00 a.m. on the 13th - just ahead of the 8.00 opening ceremony. At 10.00p.m. on the 12th - the night before - as the final work was being done an impromptu visit from the Minister of Tourism gave a jolt of encouragement to the tired team.

The Task Force

At 8.00 a.m. on the 13th November Baroness Ashton made a positive speech, standing at the door of the facsimile of the Tomb, about cooperation and support and pointed out the gift of the facsimile to Egypt as a token of friendship for the Task Force to which the Minister of Tourism replied enthusiastically making it plain that he understood the issues of tourism in delicate environments. Adam Lowe briefly but emotionally told the story of the facsimile and it importance in the preservation of the Valley of the Kings and his personal journey - ending up in Cairo and with Luxor in sight.

Adam Lowe explaining the facsimile to Baroness Ashton and EU Ambasador James Moran.

Baroness Ashton taking a photograph of the facsimile.

Baroness Ashton talking to Mohammed Zaazou (Egypt's Minister of Tourism), Gonzalo de Benito (Spain's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs) and Adam Lowe.

Adam Lowe enjoying the moment with Theo Abt (Society of Friends of the Royal Tombs of Egypt).

The Task Force then went into a full session which culminated in a formal presentation at its close - with speeches by Baroness Ashton, and The Prime Minister of Egypt. Outside, the Tomb was besieged by camera toting press and media. The speeches inside were concerned with the enormous financial assistance that was being given but also the close ties that were being created. Catherine Ashton in her speech to the summit and directly to the Prime Minister at her side referred to the importance of training and noted that the gift of the facsimile was a metaphor for the relationship between Europe and Egypt - where the skills and technology that had been developed in Europe to create the work on show outside were going to be transferred by Factum to Egypt where the local workers would be trained and those very skills and technology would become Egyptian.

The Commitment

The Government of Egypt and the European Union Task Force both reiterated their full support for the installation of the Tutankhamun facsimile to be installed in the Valley of the Kings and a new initiative to preserve the Theban Necropolis through the application of new recording technologies and the creation of exact facsimiles of the tombs that are either closed to the public for conservation reasons or are in need of closure to preserve them for future generations.

This initiative will result in a major transfer of technology and knowledge referred to by Baroness Ashton. The work to carry out the recording and build the facsimile will be carried out by an Egyptian team in Luxor, initially working under the direction of a team from Factum Arte in order to implement the protocol that has been worked out to digitize the tombs, archive and transform the data and then re-materialize them in three dimensions at a scale of 1:1. The resulting facsimiles are redefining the relationship between the original and the copy - renegotiating the complex relationship between originality and authenticity. This is essential if we are going to preserve the past in an age of mass tourism and if we are going to understand the importance of the past, its impact on the present and its influence in shaping our future. Our shared cultural heritage is a subject from which we can learn. It is not a fixed "object" to be revered.

The Next Steps - The Valley Of The Kings

In November 2008 the Supreme Council of Antiquities approved a major project to document and create exact replicas of three tombs in the Theban Necropolis. The Tomb of Seti I (closed to the public since the mid 1980's), the Tomb of Queen Nefertari (closed to the public following a major conservation initiative by the Getty Conservation Institute) and the Tomb of Tutankhamun (whose closure was announced in January 2011 but which is currently open).

In Spring 2009 the burial chamber and sarcophagus in the tomb of Tutankhamun were fully recorded at the highest resolution ever achieved on a large-scale. Between the summer of 2009 and now all the stages of the work have been perfected and an exact facsimile of the tomb is now complete. The data that was used to make the facsimile is currently being used to monitor and accurately record the decay that is taking place in the tomb. The intention is to make it public in such a way that everyone will be able to study it in great detail but only the SCA can benefit from any copyright fees it generates. Every stage of this work has been undertaken by Factum Arte. Most of the equipment has been specifically designed or significantly adapted, specialist software has been written, a new flatbed printer has been built, new materials have been developed and old materials have been revived. The results achieved speak for themselves. When you eventually stand looking at the facsimile as it will be installed it provokes the same emotional response as when you see the original - but you know you are not doing damage.

The technologies being developed for the Supreme Council of Antiquities are helping to preserve the tombs and communicate their cultural importance. They also enable conservators, academics and the public to understand the objects themselves in deeper ways.

The Book

Factum Arte has published a report that explains the project's purpose and process to celebrate the anniversary and the announcement of a new initiative to safeguard this and other tombs, including comparisons between photographs taken by Harry Burton at the time of the discovery of the tomb in 1922 and photographs taken by Alicia Guirao in 2012 of the facsimile in Factum Arte's workshop in Madrid. View the publication online here. This book, documenting the work to record, mediate, transform and replicate the tomb of Tutankhamun, also explains why this approach will work and how it will be funded. Attitudes are finally changing and originality is increasingly being seen as a process that changes over time, both through natural and human agency. The aim of all the projects developed by Factum Arte is to reveal the biography of cultural artifacts and to demonstrate that the past has the potential to influence the present and shape the future.

Download book in PDF format

A four minute video of the facsimile arriving in Cairo.

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